coal ash contamination

Thinly veiled threats from Duke Energy over discovery of radioactive elements in groundwater

The unmitigated arrogance is breathtaking:

Duke Energgy spokeswoman Erin Culbert took issue with a recent press release from the Waterkeeper Alliance pointing out the high radium levels. She accused the “critic groups” of “drawing conclusions at this early stage to simply use this milestone to advance their agenda.”

“They seek to sign up North Carolinians for the most extreme, most disruptive and most expensive way to close basins, Culbert continued. “That’s not prudent for the environment, communities or families’ energy bills.”

Bolding mine. In a nutshell, she's trying to shift the blame for future higher energy bills from the party responsible for contaminating the water (Duke Energy) onto the shoulders of those who are working diligently to keep people safe from such irresponsible behavior. It doesn't get much more sleazy than that. It's like blaming the person who called 911 about a neighbor's house being on fire. And make no mistake, this particular house fire is out of control:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy pockets $231 million from Trump's tax scam

And that's just for the last three months of 2017:

Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 segment income of $826 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. In addition to the drivers outlined below, fourth quarter 2017 results were impacted by a $231 million benefit related to the Tax Act and a $14 million after-tax charge related to regulatory settlements. These amounts were treated as special items and excluded from
adjusted earnings.

On an adjusted basis, Electric Utilities and Infrastructure recognized fourth quarter 2017 adjusted segment income of $609 million, compared to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016, an increase of $0.18 per share.

A couple of clarifications: That net $826 million is from all utilities, not just those actually operating in North Carolina. But that was "netted" from about $3.2 billion dollars in revenues, for the 4th Quarter alone. And one of the best ways to judge just how profitable a company is, you need to look at stockholders' dividend payments:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against Duke Energy

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When you have yet to clean up your mess, but still want to go outside and play:

A Duke Energy lawyer told a trio of judges on the state Court of Appeals the lawsuit filed by the state's environmental protection agency and joined by conservation groups should be dismissed. Coal ash, the residue left after decades of burning coal to generate power, can contain toxic materials like arsenic and mercury.

The company was in court in part because Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has refused to dismiss the lawsuit. Ridgeway has indicated he would review the remediation plan the state Department of Environmental Quality approves, then decide independently whether the agency is requiring enough from Duke Energy to clean up the pollution, Long said.

It's no coincidence this legal gambit is taking place 13 days before Duke Energy's first substantial hearing on their massive rate hike request before the NC Utilities Commission. That case contains many "findings of fact" on Duke Energy's negligence in coal ash management, and if they can make that go away, it will strengthen their argument for a rate increase while severely weakening the opposition to it. And just to give a voice to those who will be adversely affected by this unreasonable action:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke's attorneys go on the attack as hearings wind down

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Also claiming unlined pits were once considered a "feature" and not recklessly negligent:

Duke Energy blasted its opponents in a final regulatory filing Friday, saying they leaned on "simplistic crutches," false analysis and a Pollyanna hindsight to argue against the company's bid to raise electricity rates enough to cover clean up costs at the company's coal ash ponds.

The company complied with existing laws and industry standards when it left wet ash in unlined pits for decades, they said. At one point "the lack of a liner was considered a feature, rather than a flaw" because soil would filter out contaminants, the company said. Impact on groundwater wasn't initially a concern "because the ash basins were built more than a decade before the adoption of any federal or state regulation related to groundwater corrective action," attorneys argued.

Here's a quick primer for those who may not be aware how environmental statutes and regulations come into being: There is (or has been) usually a period of 10-20 years where contamination is discovered, investigated, then viciously fought-over in civil court, before the demands for government regulation grow to the point some rule or law is put into place to stop it. And during that pre-regulation phase, you can be damned sure attorneys for companies like Duke Energy were well aware of what was going on, and what needed to be done to improve those impoundments. Luckily for us, Josh Stein isn't drinking their arsenic-tainted Kool-Aid, and his legal opposition is definitely not pro-forma:

A closer look at Duke Energy's corruption of UNC Charlotte

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Our public universities should never allow this to happen again:

Daniels described the board in a letter to Tom Reeder, then the assistant secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, in a letter on April 5, 2016, arguing against a risk classification system for Duke’s coal ash ponds. “The NAMAB is an independent group of experts chartered through Duke Energy and managed by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte). Board members provide advice to Duke Energy, but they are contracted with and report to UNC Charlotte,” Daniels wrote. That same letter concluded with a final reaffirmation of the board’s independence. “And we are independent,” Daniels wrote.

But emails obtained by WBTV show staff from Duke Energy scheduled meetings, coordinated the distribution of research materials and facilitated the day-to-day operation of the board; a direct contradiction of what Daniels wrote in his April 2016 letter to Reeder.

There's nothing fossil fuel companies like more than penetrating a reputable university and setting up an industry-funded "research" operation. When you can dictate the scope of the research, you can (very often) achieve the results you were hoping for. Or make changes to those results if you're not happy with them:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Not-so-sweet home Alabama

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Power company informs Wilsonville Council and residents about "cap and leak" plan:

Tensions rose at times during Monday's Wilsonville City Council meeting, as a group of Alabama Power representatives spoke with the council members and Wilsonville residents about the company's plans to cover the 269-acre coal ash pond at the nearby E.C. Gaston Electric Generating Plant.

Wilsonville Mayor Lee McCarty and a handful of audience members asked pointed questions of the Alabama Power delegation, though many in the audience simply listened.

Thanks to an appearance by representatives of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) the day before, some pretty good questions were asked. But the answers they received were somewhere between vaguely misleading and downright lies:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Forcing Duke Energy's hand on flood map disclosure

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Apparently their battalion of lawyers are already too busy to fight this:

Duke Energy last week said it would soon publish inundation maps and emergency contact information related to safety planning for coal ash storage facilities on its website, reversing its previous policy of not publishing the information.

Earthjustice had announced its intention to sue Duke Energy in Kentucky in order to compel the utility to disclose critical information the environmental group argued was required by federal law. While the utility company initially refused to release the information, it later released a statement saying it was "revisiting the issue" and had determined the data should be made available to the public.

I don't care if they claim a "burning bush" told them to release the information, as long as it gets published. Another issue they need to "revisit" is their continued knee-jerk reaction to releasing or admitting anything that might generate some bad PR. The constant framing and denialism does absolutely nothing to engender confidence in their professionalism or technical capabilities, it actually does the opposite. But reprogramming corporate drones is apparently not in their toolbox.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Big Sky, big water contamination problem

Ranchers in Montana have been fighting coal ash leaks for years:

During the construction of the coal fired Colstrip power plants in the 70’s and 80’s, adjacent landowners to the ash settling pond sites raised concerns about contamination from coal ash into the shallow aquifers. We in agriculture rely on these aquifers (water quality and quantity) for stock water and domestic use for our homes. During the permitting process, the Board of Health required Montana Power Company to construct the ponds to be “completely sealed.” In fact, the term was underlined within the permit language. The permit also required ponds to be a “closed loop system.”

Montana Power Company then successfully petitioned the Board of Health to alter the parameters of the permit AFTER THE PERMIT WAS GRANTED.

Before we continue, it's important to note: As with many industrial operations, "best practices" technology and processes already exist with coal ash management, that greatly reduce the likelihood and severity of toxic leakage. But those best practices cost money, and avoiding having to implement them has become an art with many utilities across the US. Back to Clint's testimony:

Coal ash documentary featuring Dukeville residents showing in New York

"From The Ashes" will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month:

The documentary, “From the Ashes,” examines the history of coal in the United States, the long-term effects of the coal industry on communities and the future of coal. The Dukeville community and several familiar faces for observers of North Carolina’s coal ash controversy are featured in the documentary. They include Dukeville resident Deborah Graham, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Frank Holleman and Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins.

Part of the documentary was filmed in Dukeville, which has dealt with questions about well-water quality for roughly two years. State law requires that Duke Energy provide a source of safe, permanent water to neighbors of its coal ash ponds by 2018. “From the Ashes” is set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26. Graham said she has been invited to attend the world premiere.

Once this documentary makes its rounds of film venues, it will be aired on the National Geographic Channel. Here's the trailer:

Duke Energy to add more carcinogens to already impaired waters

I guess they're not worried about the EPA anymore:

As part of its 2015 criminal plea agreement, Duke Energy admitted that bromide discharged into rivers and lakes from its coal ash operations have caused carcinogens to form in downstream drinking water systems. Some of these carcinogens are so dangerous that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set their health protection goal at zero, meaning that people should not be exposed to any level of these pollutants.

Yet instead of taking responsible action to halt these bromide discharges, Duke Energy is proposing to add even more bromides to its coal ash basins, through changes to its coal plant operations. Duke Energy claims that the additional bromides will reduce emissions of mercury from its smokestacks. The utility is choosing this bromide production despite the fact that other modern, widely-used technologies—such as baghouses—are available to control mercury emissions without causing carcinogens downstream.

It's actually no comfort in realizing this is probably happening all over the United States, in the wake of the Trump admin's systematic destruction of the EPA. Hopefully our new DEQ will be able to bring some relief from the inevitable deterioration of our environment, but they've been cut to the bone also.

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