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When it comes to avoiding another coal ash spill, the problem may not be (as the environmentalists believe) the villainy of Governor McCrory.  The problem may be more subtle. 

Going back decades, the career state employees over at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have told Duke Energy it was handling coal ash just fine.   
That seems odd now.  But it really wasn’t all that unusual then.
Back in 1917, before Duke Energy ever built the first coal ash pond, Alcoa Corporation was smelting aluminum down on the Yadkin River and in those days – since the EPA didn’t even exist – it simply loaded the waste (which is more toxic than coal ash) onto trucks and dumped it in the woods around Badin. Later, after the EPA came along, Alcoa began dumping the waste in unlined landfills and, over the years, regular as clockwork, state bureaucrats would write Alcoa and ask, Send us a report about your pollution. 
And Alcoa would send a long report back which basically said, As you know, there’s been pollution (in the past) but none of it is an immediate threat to anyone so rather than cleaning it up we propose to leave it as is and go on monitoring.  
Then the state bureaucrats would write back, Fine, and stamp the report and file it in a warehouse full of other state documents.
 Apparently no one stopped to wonder if it made sense to ask the folks who’d have to clean up the pollution whether it was a problem.
Then Duke’s coal ash pond ruptured and Governor Pat McCrory found himself face to face with another unusual fact: The folks he had to put to work (at DENR) cleaning up the mess were the same folks who’d been telling Duke Energy – for years – it was doing just fine.
Now the environmentalists aren’t fond of the Governor and they’ve got their reasons but maybe, this once, the Governor’s not the villain.


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3 comments on “Coal Ash

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are wrong about DENR’s relationship to Duke Energy on coal ash. Until 2009, Duke Energy and Progress Energy’s ash ponds were almost entirely exempt from state environmental rules. The only thing DENR had the ability to regulate were discharges of wastewater from the ash ponds to lakes and streams. As long as the ash stayed in the ponds, it wasn’t considered solid waste and it didn’t have to meet any state or federal solid waste disposal rules. That was a matter of state law and federal law –and the environmental professionals in DENR didn’t (and still don’t) have the ability to adopt either. That is within the power of state and federal legislators – and most legislators — of both parties — just didn’t want to put pressure on the electric utilities.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wonder if this is not something the Republicans could run with, and then does it lend itself to short attention span public. Not sure the case you make, which is a good one, could be made short enough to push as a small government works better idea, for the Republicans governor’s run for a second term.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What is needed badly is more control of policy level positions in state government by the Governor’s office.

    Career bureaucrats are the culprits in the coal ash mess.

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