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Thursday, July 11, 2013

No public hearing for pollution discharge permit on Neuse River

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Neuse River
  • Travis S.
  • Neuse River

Two weeks ago, I told you that the N.C. Department of Environmental Resources has put its work toward closing coal ash impoundments around the state "on hold" - much to the surprise of environmentalists, this journalist and apparently even Duke Energy, since the company says it's "all systems go" on its end of the closure ordeal.

As I wrote in the piece highlighted above:

"There is absolutely nothing preventing the state from proceeding with responsible closure plans," said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Well, this week, I've learned through an email sent to the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation - and with the help of Twitter (hell yeah!) - that Department of Environmental Resources is making no sense - again.


The department says that because Duke Energy is working to decommission the coal ash ponds the Neuse Riverkeeper is worried about, there's no need for public opinion in this government decision-making process, even though said "ponds" may well continue to drain into a drinking water source near Goldsboro and soak the groundwater beneath them. Water that - and I can't say this enough - the citizens of the state own, so says the state's constitution.

Here's the back story:
Every five years, the Department of Environmental Resources works on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for the various rivers in the state. A couple years ago it was the Catawba River's turn, now it's the Neuse River's turn.

The permit is basically a way to legally pollute ... and I say that without even a hint of sass. It's a federal program, via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but states issue, administer and enforce the permits.

Every five years, N.C. Department of Environmental Resources looks at all of the known pollution discharge into a river system and effectively calculates how much of any one type of pollutant the river can take. It then divides the maximum discharge allowable among various polluters by setting limits in their discharge permits.

Back in 2010, when it was the Catawba River's turn - that's the river that flows out of your faucets, by the way - the agency took more than a year to finalize its decision on the discharge permits, allowing the previous permits to lapse in the meantime, but it did hold a public hearing ... not that it mattered much.

To recap what I wrote after the hearing for the Catawba River's permits:

At the public meeting, it was clear that the people who wanted less regulation in the permits worked for Duke Energy and the people who wanted more were average citizens, though even Mecklenburg County sent written comments asking for tighter regulations.

Unfortunately, NCDENR chose not to listen to the people who drink the river's water and clean the pollution out of it, but, instead, sided mostly with those who use the water to generate electricity.

However, now that it's the Neuse River's turn, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation has been informed that there will be no public hearing:

The following statement is from the Department of Environmental Resources:

"The Division appreciates your interest in this Draft NPDES permit. Considering the fact that 1) ash pond has not discharged since November of 2012, 2) Duke Energy Progress is scheduled to begin ash pond decommissioning in 2015, and 3) Duke Energy Progress has already installed groundwater monitoring wells, and will address groundwater issues during ash pond decommissioning, the Division Director has decided against a public hearing. "

Read more on the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation's website.

As the statement on the Riverkeeper's website indicates, the organization is concerned about coal ash impoundments discharging into a drinking water source for North Carolina residents, which is the exact same thing folks in the Charlotte-area were concerned about when it was the Catawba River's turn for a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System review.

No public hearing means no chance for citizens to stand before their regulators to go on record about their concerns, which - as I reported this week - is of critical importance to state decision makers.

But, hey, since Duke Energy, a company the state is suing over coal ash contamination in the Catawba River, has things under control, as per N.C. Department of Environmental Resources...

No, stop. This is too much dumb fuckery to process.

As The New York Times editorial board pointed out in a recent editorial, this once great state is in "decline." The fact that the state is saying Duke Energy's "got this" on the Neuse River, while at the same time suing Duke for the very same pollution situation in another part of state - all while telling citizens to sit down and shut up - is more evidence to support the Times' argument.

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