From Pricey Harrison, a Democrat representing Guilford County in the N.C. House:
The inability of North Carolina state agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to adequately protect our states waterways has been exposed by recent research ranging from a yearlong statewide study by Duke University scientists to a science project by an industrious sixth-grader who lives and plays around Mountain Island Lake.
Agencies like DENR, whose responsibilities include developing and enforcing environmental protections relating to water pollution, are falling short. And as long as lawmakers in Raleigh continue to reduce funding for these agencies, remove experienced regulatory oversight board members, and weaken regulations aimed at protecting the public health, federal standards may be the only buffer to prevent devastating and often irreversible impacts reaching every corner of our state.
Although both the state and federal government have a role in environmental protection, the regulation of toxic coal ash ponds is currently under DENRs jurisdiction.
Recognizing the growing coal ash pollution problem in North Carolina, scientists at Duke University conducted a study, published in October 2012, that revealed high concentrations of arsenic and selenium pollution contaminating the French Broad River. In addition to its importance to tourism, the rivers reputation for superior water quality has attracted new economic players and craft breweries to our state.
Waterways across the state continue to be threatened by coal ash. As Duke Energy retires the oldest coal plants in its fleet, including the Riverbend Plant in Gaston County, neither the utility nor the state has a clear plan to address coal ash sites left behind.
If Duke Energy decides to cap the basins at Riverbend, N.C.s Division of Water Quality will be required to continue monitoring groundwater at the site for years to come, although DENR is increasingly limited in its resources and manpower for monitoring and enforcement. Mountain Island Lake, which provides drinking water for nearly one million residents of the Charlotte metropolitan area, will also continue to suffer the consequences of the states failure to address the problems associated with coal ash pollution.
That it took a sixth-graders school project to bring attention to elevated levels of arsenic near her home on Mountain Island Lake does not inspire confidence in the states ability to fulfill its responsibilities.
As state agencies struggle to protect the environment and human health by regulating coal-burning utilities, the General Assembly is rushing to jump start hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in North Carolina. Proposed legislation would permit fracking to begin in two years, no matter the status of the states regulatory development, resources, or staffing.
Our state agencies are ill-equipped to regulate this industry. In the absence of strong federal standards, the threats to water and air quality and the health of residents and communities in the path of gas development are very real.
North Carolina has a long history of environmental protection; which is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. As long as state agencies fail to protect residents and local water supplies, federal oversight is essential. Senators Hagan and Burr must resist efforts to limit the EPAs ability to properly regulate these issues.
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