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

Not simply individual guards should answer for this tragedy – but the leaders of private security companies and the governments that employ them must also be held to account.

After a year in which destruction of the world's largest rainforest rose 29%, the new Alto Maues reserve has 1.6 million acres of mostly untouched forests that are not known to have human presence.

The banks have exclusive access to more than 214,000 federal inmates under exclusive contracts awarded by the U.S. Treasury Department about 15 years ago

Toss-up races like Kansas and South Dakota may be the ones that decide whether or not Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate.

Some critics say that the "militarization of the police" is happening right in front of our eyes – but if the Founding Fathers were so worried about a threat of domestic tyranny, how did we get here?

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014, and also has a "foreclosure king" who is now disbarred for his failure to oversee employees accused of carrying out wrongful foreclosures.

Posted 3 days 22 hours ago

Drug and device makers paid doctors $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period last year – and saw a healthy return on their investment.

Posted 6 days 20 hours ago

As of September 19, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Posted 6 days 21 hours ago

Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) is a grassroots group taking the lead to combat systemic racism and build a people's economy in St. Louis.

Posted 6 days 21 hours ago

Punishing local cuts are leaving communities up in arms as the removal of vital school road patrol service – known as the lollipop ladies – could go into effect.

Posted 6 days 21 hours ago

Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) is a grassroots group taking the lead to combat systemic racism and build a people's economy in St. Louis.

As of September 19, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Large corporations are the winners and taxpayers are the losers when transparency, accountability and the public interest are sold out to for-profit firms.

The nation's richest family is funding nearly two dozen organizations working to roll back renewable energy policies, while pushing for regulations aimed at hindering the growth of rooftop solar power.

On Sunday, hundreds of people milled around a protest site in the gentrifying, densely-populated district Mong Kok, manning aid stations and sitting in small circles on the pavement.

Sign Up