Monday, August 30, 2010

Coal ash hearings start today

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM

A few people are live-Tweeting today's hearing, from Arlington, Va., under the hashtag #coalash, though I understand they have poor reception so there may not be much to read. But, the news is worth watching since Charlotte will host a similar hearing on Sept. 14. You can read all about the hearings, find out how to attend and even sign up to speak here.

While we wait, I thought you'd want to use this time to get caught up on coal ash news. Fortunately, the folks at the Sierra Club created an easy button for us when they published a public thank you to me and Creative Loafing for our ongoing coverage of the issue, one recently voted as the "local issue that needs more attention" in our 'Best of' Charlotte 2010 awards edition.

But, we definitely aren't the only media organization reporting on coal ash. It's a huge, national issue that has serious local implications since Charlotte has four unlined coal ash ponds nearby, two of which drain into our main drinking water reservoir. And, let's not forget the potential impact on Duke Energy, a huge energy company located right here in the Q.C.

Here's one article, from USAToday, entitled, "Study: Drinking water polluted by coal-ash dump sites." If you're like me, when something as important as our drinking water is on the line, I'm not content to simply read an article about the issue. No, I want the source documents. So, here you go: Click here for the report behind the article. It was published by the Environmental Integrity Project in conjunction with Earth Justice.

There's another report, from Appalachian Voices, you may want to read as well. This one discusses how the groundwater near all of the high-hazard coal ash ponds in North Carolina is contaminated with pollution. Read it here.

Now before you go and crucify Duke Energy, know this: We're in this situation today because the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed to regulate something a lot of people consider to be a hazardous waste. Worse, no one seemed to be paying attention when Duke installed one, then another, unlined coal ash pond just upstream from where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities withdraws 80 percent of our area's drinking water. (By the way, the drinking water pumping station was there way before the coal ash ponds. In fact, the original station is now underwater. It was flooded when the energy company built the dam that created Mountain Island Lake in the 1920s.)

As far as I can tell after more than a year of research, Duke Energy isn't breaking any laws or out of compliance with the ponds near Charlotte. Though its coal plants create the waste, the real problem in this situation is the government ... which is supposed to be of the people and for the people. So, it's ironic that we, the people, weren't aware of the coal ash impoundments until one busted in Tennessee almost two years ago, creating a giant mess and one of the nation's biggest environmental disasters ever.

So, this is where you come in. You have an opportunity to tell the EPA what you think about coal ash and, in our case, its proximity to our drinking water, regardless of your stance on the issue. It is your right to speak up, that's why the agency is holding hearings. But, even if you can't attend you can still voice your opinion via e-mail, snail-mail, fax or hand delivery. The Catawba Riverkeeper created a few easy buttons for doing so, which are here.

The bottom line is this: Under the North Carolina constitution, the people own the water. We deserve to know what's in it, what's being dumped into it — and how often and in what quantities, how it's cleaned, how it's managed and how it's regulated. We, legally, have a say in every one of those steps and this is your opportunity to stand up and voice your opinion. Don't miss it.

Further reading: Hearings begin on federal coal ash rules as evidence of damages mounts -- Institute for Southern Studies, Facing South

In related news, the EPA didn't want coal ash to be an issue. They attempted to keep the impoundments a secret, claiming that if they told the public about them they would be sacrificing national security. You can see how well that fear mongering panned out. The only thing that's come out of the public's new-found awareness is concern. By the way, we own the EPA too.

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