MountainTrue staff were able to thank the Department of Environmental Quality’s Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson (far left) and Secretary Michael Regan (center) in person for their recent historic decision to require Duke Energy to dig up all of its remaining coal ash ponds in North Carolina.
This time of year, protecting Western North Carolina’s shared places means taking road trips to Raleigh.
With the General Assembly now running full steam, MountainTrue staff are making regular visits to the state capitol to speak up for our mountains. We made our second visit of the year last week to have conversations with a number of key legislators as well as the leadership at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
At the General Assembly, we had good visits with Representatives John Ager, Kevin Corbin, Josh Dobson, Susan Fisher, Cody Henson, Chuck McGrady and Ray Russell, as well as Senators Deanna Ballard and Chuck Edwards. Thank you to all of these lawmakers for making time for us.
Much of our conversation focused on funding for a variety of conservation efforts in Western North Carolina. These include improvements to the French Broad Paddle Trail, creating permanent public access to the Green River and removing a dam on the Watauga River to improve water quality and fish habitat improving public recreation and reducing flooding.
Another priority for MountainTrue this year is to increase the state’s investment in water quality testing in our region. While North Carolina regularly tests its beach waters to protect public health, there is no comparable effort for WNC’s rivers and streams. This is true despite our region’s rapidly growing population and the increasing number of tourists who now swim, paddle, wade and tube in our untested rivers and streams. Unfortunately, these waters are often of lower quality than we’d like them to be. In 2017 and 2018, more than three-quarters of the streams monitored by MountainTrue did not pass the EPA safe water quality standard for E. coli at some point in the year.
We’re also calling on lawmakers to re-establish the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) Program, which before its demise reduced bacterial pollution by identifying pollution associated with straight pipes and failing septic systems in Western North Carolina. Between 2002 and 2010, the program surveyed 28 separate areas, visited 13,379 homes and identified 2,016 violations.
Then at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), we had a brief few moments with Sec. Michael Regan and were able to give him two thank you cards – one for him and another for Gov. Cooper – signed by MountainTrue staff for the administration’s recent, historic decision to require Duke Energy to dig up all remaining coal ash ponds in North Carolina.
Then we got down to business, with conversations about MountainTrue’s legislative agenda, concerns about several water quality issues in the North Toe and Green Rivers and some ideas about improving the process the Department uses to engage and educate the public during public meetings. Overall we’ve found that Department officials have consistently been willing to listen to our concerns and, in most cases, work with us to find shared solutions.
MountainTrue’s next Raleigh road trip is scheduled for early May. If you would like to plug in and help support our policy agenda, please contact our Advocacy & Communications Associate Eliza Stokes at email@example.com. And as always, thanks for the support that makes our legislative advocacy efforts possible!
MountainTrue’s Statement on DEQ’s Announcement to Order Full Excavation of Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pits in North Carolina
Broad Riverkeeper, MountainTrue
E: firstname.lastname@example.org P: 704-300-5069
April 3 2019
Cliffside, N.C. – On April 1, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that they will require full excavation of all coal ash impoundments in NC. As a result, a total of nine coal ash pits at six coal-burning plants – Allen, Belews, Cliffside/Rogers, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro – must be fully excavated and moved to lined landfills. Below are statements from MountainTrue’s Broad Riverkeeper, David Caldwell, and MountainTrue’s Co-Director, Julie Mayfield.
“This is a huge victory for clean water and the health of communities living near coal-burning power plants in North Carolina. DEQ has proven their mettle, showing the people of our state that they intend to do their job of protecting our water and environment. They have shown big business and industry that polluting our water is unacceptable, and that polluters will be held accountable. This has been a long battle for frontline communities, which have shouldered the burden and the risks associated with coal-fired power for decades.
I personally became involved in the fight to clean up coal ash in 2014, and started the Broad River Alliance in 2015. In 2016 I attended the first of DEQ’s public input meetings regarding Cliffside, joining over one hundred concerned local citizens who stood up and spoke out for clean water. We asked DEQ and Duke Energy to do the right thing and dig up the ash that has been sitting in our groundwater and leaking dangerous contaminants into the Broad River.
The Cliffside community has been showing up and speaking out about the dangers of coal ash for the past three years. Finally, a victory has come for the people and for the environment that sustains us all. It is truly possible that I will one day be able to say to the young fishermen of the Broad River, ‘Yes, the fishing here is fantastic! And these fish are good to eat! We have clean water and we intend on keeping it!’”
–David Caldwell, Broad Riverkeeper for MountainTrue
“MountainTrue is so grateful to DEQ for listening to affected communities and heeding the science showing that full excavation is the only safe option for coal ash closure in our state.
MountainTrue and the Sierra Club launched the focus on coal ash in North Carolina in 2012 as part of the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign. Through that campaign, we secured the forthcoming retirement of Asheville’s coal plant on Lake Julian and the full excavation of those coal ash ponds. This put Asheville’s air and water on a pathway to a cleaner future, but the future for the people and environment in Cliffside and other frontline communities across the state were until now uncertain. This historic decision by DEQ will change all of that.
MountainTrue is grateful for the affected community members who spoke out at hearing after hearing to help secure this victory, as well as for grassroots organizers all across the state and partner organizations like the Southern Environmental Law Center who made this outcome possible. We will continue to monitor this process closely, and we call on North Carolina’s legislators to help ensure that DEQ’s decision is implemented efficiently and justly for the people of North Carolina.”
–Julie Mayfield, Co-Director for MountainTrue