DENR Secretary John Skvarla was confused today about exactly how much coal ash Duke Energy spilled into the Dan River earlier this year.
During a presentation of Governor McCrory’s Coal Ash Action Plan to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the Environment and Natural Resources, Skvarla said 35 to 39 million tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River.
Mercifully, the real number is around 35 thousand tons.
But Senators did not let the Secretary forget that the spill was the third worst coal ash spill in the nation’s history and, to their credit, took Skvarla and his DENR cohorts to task on the plan’s laxer provisions.
The Governor’s road map, which the Senate’s early version mirrors, requires Duke Energy to produce plans to close four priority plants immediately and to evaluate other coal ash ponds on an individual basis, with options to remove the coal ash or dry it out and cap it in place.
Senators said quick action is needed on all coal ash facilities in North Carolina, not just the priority sites. They took issue with the plan’s “flexibility,” which is seen as a way of letting Duke Energy off the hook.
“The term is problematic,” said Sen. McLaurin, D-Rowan. “The public we represent and serve wants to see specific timetables. We have to be specific about our intention and the timetable as we move forward.”
Senators also complained that the 24-hour window for Duke Energy to report to DENR on future spills at any of the plants was too long.
“This is in the ballpark of where we were last time and that caused a lot of consternation,” said Sen. Rabin, R-Harnett. “With communications the way they are now, why would it take 24 hours to notify the Department?”
And this doesn't even take into account the slow seepage of coal ash pollutants into surface and groundwater and illegal discharges.
Matt Starr, the Neuse Riverkeeper, said that coal ash has been polluting groundwater with arsenic at Duke Energy's Goldsboro facility by over 60 times the state's standard.
"Let that sink in," he told Senators.
Skvarla took the opportunity again to criticize the media (for misrepresenting information) and environmental groups (for playing politics) as he is wont to do.
“According to the EPA, DENR has done it right and will continue to do it right,” he said. “The state of North Carolina is in charge of this process, no one else.”
That would be more comforting if, at the very least, the Secretary could get his facts straight.