Duke Energy Lobbied Hard Against Coal Ash Safety – Then Gave Us the Dan River Spill

Search form

Duke Energy Lobbied Hard Against Coal Ash Safety – Then Gave Us the Dan River Spill

Duke Energy Lobbied Hard Against Coal Ash Safety – Then Gave Us the Dan River Spill
Mon, 2/10/2014 - by David Pomerantz
This article originally appeared on Greenpeace Blogs

On November 4, 2009, Duke Energy lobbyist Bill Tyndall walked into the White House and met with Obama Administration officials to discuss whether coal ash should be regulated in the wake of the TVA coal ash spill disaster that had happened 10 months previously.

There’s no transcript of that meeting, but public statements and the documents that he and other lobbyists brought with them indicate that he probably said something like this:

“Coal ash is a non-hazardous, useful byproduct of burning coal. It poses no threat to human health and safety, and in fact can be used in all kinds of positive ways, like in agriculture and construction. Don’t do anything to regulate it – that would cost us money and hurt the economy.”

That’s nonsense, of course, the kind of thing that lobbyists say to protect their employers’ profit margins. Coal ash is highly toxic, containing chemicals like arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals that lead to cancer and other health problems.

But Duke Energy got its way. Despite strong public outrage after the TVA coal ash tragedy, EPA has essentially sat on its hands for the past four years, delaying the publication of a simple and common-sense rule that would label coal ash as hazardous waste and force utilities like Duke to clean up the mess they create when they burn coal.

Now Duke Energy is responsible for the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. Its coal ash dump near Eden, NC has been leaking grey, toxic sludge into the Dan River since Sunday. The utility still hasn’t been able to stop the leak, and doesn’t seem to know how.

Last week the company admitted that it hadn’t even known what the burst pipe responsible for the spill was made of. The nearest city is saying its drinking water is still okay, but it has been relying on Duke Energy to do the testing, which is troubling to say the least.

Other downstream cities in Virginia have stopped taking drinking water from the river as a precaution. And regardless of the drinking water safety, there’s no telling what kind of damage will be caused to the Dan River’s ecosystem; the river’s ability to support fishing, recreation and aquatic life may be severely compromised.

The Dan River spill could have been prevented if EPA had acted back in 2009, heeding the voices of scientists and the public instead of calls for delay from Duke’s lobbyists. If EPA had acted quickly and assertively, Duke would have been required to clean up unlined dumps like the one currently spilling into the Dan River.

But Duke and other utilities’ hooks were into the Administration too deep. We learned a few months after Tyndall’s 2009 meeting that a front group for Duke Energy and other utilities, the American Coal Ash Association, had lobbied the EPA so effectively on this issue that they had ghost written every single EPA publication on the subject of coal ash.

Utilities were able to delay the rule long enough that it became a political hot potato before the 2012 presidential election, causing yet more delay.

Last Thursday, EPA finally announced that it would release its coal ash rule by the end of 2014, though it was far too late to protect the communities near the Dan River. Just 48 hours later, the pipe under Duke’s dump broke, sending up to 677 train cars worth of ash into the river.

For the people living on that river, Duke’s political dirt will be washing up on their shores for a long time to come.

Originally published by Greenpeace Blogs

Article Tabs

stagnant wages, rising inequality, wealth inequality, income inequality, low wages

The widening chasm between workers’ pay and productivity is “the central component of the wage stagnation story” in the U.S., according to an Economic Policy Institute report issued ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

Ferguson protests, Michael Brown, police brutality, police violence, military-style policing, Loretta Lynch, Darren Wilson

A DOJ report released Thursday denounces poor community-police relations, ineffective communication among law enforcement groups, police orders that infringed 1st Amendment rights, and military-style tactics that antagonized demonstrators.

Guatemala protests, Otto Pérez Molina, immunity from prosecution, Guatemalan Spring, Rigoberta Menchú, human rights violations, Guatemalan Civil War, Guatemala atrocities, School of the Americas

The popular, months-long protest movement led by ordinary people – which some have called the "Guatemalan Spring" – brought justice to the highest echelons of government.

low federal deficit, Federal Reserve, quantitative easing, Public Banking Institute, Reconstruction Finance Corporation

Liberals are celebrating the news that the federal deficit is $59 billion lower this year than last year and defending Obama's record in the process – but making an argument for decreased public investment is doing conservatives’ work for them.

wealth inequality, income inequality, destructive capitalism

From the failure to create jobs to the inability to rescue the environment or provide adequate housing and education, the catastrophe of modern day capitalism is more and more evident by the day – and something's got to give.

Japan Self-Defense Forces, Tokyo protests, Japan security bill

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in front of Japanese parliament to protest against security bills they believe to be unconstitutional, allowing Japanese soldiers to fight overseas in defense of national interests.

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago

Privatization advocates contend that Katrina brought essential reforms to Louisiana’s education system – but the facts tell a different story, as black residents report they live in a city that has yet to recover.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago
non-GMOs, GMOs, organic school food, The Conscious Kitchen, Turning Green

Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards, but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago
Freddie Gray, Baltimore protests, police brutality, police violence, Fortress Investment Group, Imperial Capital, The Abell Foundation, purchasing debt, foreclosures

Wall Street hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and L.A.-based Imperial Capital bought up hundreds of small debts — from unpaid water bills to delinquent property taxes — and could take property worth tens of millions of dollars if families can’t pay.

Posted 2 days 8 hours ago
Fight for $15, minimum wage, living wage, fastfood workers movement, McDonald's wages

Scott Courtney, who is helping steer the low wage movement through the SEIU and union channels, says "this is about lifting up the 64 million American workers who aren’t making enough to live on.”

Malaysian protests, anti-corruption protests

People participating in the 34-hour protest slept in the streets overnight in an unusually calm demonstration of public outrage by the group Bersih, which means “clean” in Malay.

non-GMOs, GMOs, organic school food, The Conscious Kitchen, Turning Green

Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards, but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet.

Japan Self-Defense Forces, Tokyo protests, Japan security bill

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in front of Japanese parliament to protest against security bills they believe to be unconstitutional, allowing Japanese soldiers to fight overseas in defense of national interests.

Issues of police brutality – like the July killing of Paul Castaway near Denver – are opening the public's eyes to the continuing struggles of Native Americans and other groups unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Sign Up