On Face the Nation Sunday, Bob Schieffer asked North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory a gotcha question when he asked point-blank if he still believes, as he said in 2008, that climate change is just “in god’s hands and there’s not much humans can do to stop it.” Now, it is important that McCrory ignorantly said he is not sure if the preponderance of science proves man is affecting the Earth’s climate, but it is more important that he said “while he believes in cleaning the environment, there are some things that are out of our control. It’s in God’s hands.” McCrory’s statement is revealing in more ways than one, but one thing is perfectly clear; McCrory knows the dirty coal industry is polluting the environment in North Carolina because his state’s environmental regulators are not doing their jobs. It is why he expects his god to clean up what he knows will be more toxic spills.
Whether McCrory, a Republican, is telling a bald-faced lie about believing in cleaning the environment, or maintaining his dirty energy bona fides by shifting the cleanup responsibility to god, he is well aware that his former employers are evading or colluding with state regulators and polluting the waterways with veritable impunity. McCrory retired from Duke Energy in January 2007 after 28 years with the company that dumped 82,000 tons (yes tons) of chemical-laden toxic waste into the Dan River. Even though the spill was the third largest of its kind in U.S. history, the company did not report it until the following day. It is highly likely that since the state government allowed Duke to pay modest fines rather than actually clean up the waste ponds responsible for dumping coal ash into the river, they have little interest or incentive to protect the environment and report the spill immediately.
Duke Energy has been running roughshod over environmental regulations to the point that the head of North Carolina’s environmental department, John Skvarla, described the agency he oversees as a “partner” to those it is supposed to regulate, whom he called “customers.” The good news for North Carolinians, and bad news for Duke Energy, is that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Raleigh launched a criminal investigation and issued a grand jury subpoena to North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to get to the bottom of what certainly appears to be corruption. The subpoena demanded emails, memos, and reports between the state’s environmental watchdog and Duke Energy from 2010 to February 2, the day Duke Energy dumped 82,000 tons of chemical-laden coal ash into the water and failed to notify authorities or environmental agencies for an entire day.
The subpoena does not name a specific crime or which people are targeted for prosecution yet, but according to an attorney with Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group, “this investigation is long overdue.” The staff attorney, Pete Harrison, said “There’s a long history of a very cozy relationship between the state regulators and Duke Energy who they are supposed to regulate. There’s plenty of ground for suspicion for some kind of criminal behavior going on with all of this.” Environmentalists say North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory is too lax on, and helping, Duke Energy because he worked for the company for 28 years. Since North Carolina’s environmental regulators are turning a blind eye to Duke’s “cozy relationship” with McCrory and state regulators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the water and researching the effects on marine life. The EPA asked residents if they see any wildlife that looks harmed or is dead to report it on their website.
The North Carolina spill generated little interest in the media, and it is curious since it was just last month that a chemical storage facility at Freedom Industries leaked chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia that is still causing trouble in the region. In fact, there was another, barely mentioned toxic dump in West Virginia last week at another coal preparation facility. This time the company with another teabagger sounding name, “Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle operation” spilled an unknown quantity of coal slurry into a creek in Kanawha County, W.V. on Tuesday morning that has contaminated the waterway according to West Virginia officials. The operation is near Winifrede, southeast of Charleston, near site of last month’s major chemical spill that sent school children home yesterday because of the telltale licorice smell associated with one of the chemicals that leaked into the water supply.
West Virginia officials were not sure of the amount of coal slurry that spilled into Fields Creek from a ruptured pipeline, but a West Virginia DEP spokesman said the spill could be characterized as “significant.” Local reporters tweeted photos of the spill, which turned the creek’s water black. One reporter tweeted with an image that “Water still black after coal slurry spill on Fields Creek in Kanawha County,” and another included an image with the caption, “This is several miles from Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant. Water is black!” and a third wrote “slurry spill containment efforts underway along Fields Creek in Kanawha County.”
There appears to be no end in sight to the recurring “accidents” involving the dirty coal industry dumping toxins into the water and it is down to state level environmental agencies lax or no oversight and it is why the EPA must be given the resources to protect the water supply. Last month after the Liberty Industries chemical leak, Speaker John Boehner said there are enough regulations in place and that the Obama Administration needs to do its job. However, Republicans boasted not long ago that they slashed EPA funding for inspections and enforcement by 20% over the past three years that informs they are bound and determined to prevent the EPA from “doing their jobs.” At the first of the year, instead of creating jobs or helping economic recovery, Republicans passed three bills to eliminate the EPA’s authority over states in addition to including several riders eliminating the agency’s authority in the recent budget passed at the end of 2013.
It is true the coal industry is a major employer in the region around West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia, but they are also a highly profitable industry and they have a responsibility to protect the people and their families in their employ. The only good to come out of these most recent spills is that the U.S. Attorney is launching criminal investigations into both the West Virginia chemical leak and the North Carolina coal ash dump. With state regulators cozied up to the coal industry, and Republicans eliminating the Environment Protection Agency’s inspection and enforcement power at an alarming rate, it is obvious it falls to the Justice Department to step in and hold what is arguably a criminal conspiracy to account for decimating the region’s clean water supply. What is most curious is there is not an outcry from residents demanding their state leaders to do their jobs, but when they are dependent on campaign contributions to stay in power, there is little chance regulators will be allowed to do their jobs. Sadly, the people’s silence coupled with officials beholden to the dirty coal industry mean that these so-called “accidents” will continue unabated and unpunished.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.