November 16, 2016

Toxic coal ash is now a political football

     Donald has “trumped” Hillary’s chance of becoming America’s first woman president.  What’s next?  Every day, we’ll learn a little more.  In the meantime, we wait and wonder.
     Waiting and wondering are what Gov. Pat McCrory is doing in North Carolina, too.  Last week’s election left him 4,980 votes behind the state’s attorney general.  Gov. McCrory is asking for a recount of the 4.6 million votes cast, but his opponent, Roy Cooper, is most likely to be certified as the winner on Nov. 18.
     So, what’s that got to do with us down here in Wayne County?
     I think the answer is plenty.
     North Carolina is polarized over House Bill 2, better known as the “bathroom bill.”  There’s been a backlash over the estimated $500 million in lost business because of the new law, but that’s not all that accounted for McCrory’s stumbling in his bid for re-election.  There was a controversial toll road, the fallout over the Charlotte shootings and another hot political football.
     So, again, what’s that got to do with Wayne County?
     Three words: toxic coal ash.
     Many believe toxic coal ash played a significant role in unseating the incumbent.
     Our neighboring state’s governor, Pat McCrory, has long ties to Duke Energy, the producer of millions of tons of toxic coal ash.   Voters in North Carolina are not happy with McCrory and his perceived soft handling of Duke’s pollution problems.
     Read this from inside climate news: “… North Carolina has more coal ash impoundments on waterways near people and property than any other state and a massive spill that resulted in federal criminal charges in 2014 put the issue near the top of voters’ concerns.  It hasn’t helped McCrory that the company responsible for that incident and all 33 of the coal ash dumps at 14 sites in North Carolina is McCrory’s longtime former employer and political donor, Duke Energy.”  In one of Roy Cooper’s ads, the challenger said, “McCrory let his friends at Duke off easy, and we got stuck with the bill.”
     But McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, sees it differently.  His campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz was quoted in the same article: “… the reality is that he [McCrory] has been the toughest governor on Duke Energy.”  The sitting governor tosses the political football back to Cooper, whom he blames for the problem.  McCrory says Cooper, the state’s attorney general, failed to take legal action against Duke over the past 15 years.
     McCrory’s administration stuck Duke with a $25 million fine but later reduced the amount to $7 million.  Was there favoritism?  From a few hundred miles away, I see how you could make that assumption.  My guess is that at least 4,980 voters did, too.  Whatever the fine, Duke Energy got a black eye for the toxic coal-ash spill which polluted 70 miles of the Dan River, and the environment suffered.
     Last November, Wayne County had cranked up the Trump-Clinton chatter.  But besides Republic representatives’ quietly mentioning future Broadhurst plans to a few county commissioners, toxic coal-ash discussion was absent from beauty parlors and coffee corners.  What a difference a year makes.
     When it comes to the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill, we don’t have to wait and wonder what Republic Services might do.  It is clear. Republic wants a rail spur so that it can make Wayne County the dump for the East Coast’s municipal solid waste and toxic coal ash.
     Before it’s too late, we need to learn from North Carolina’s woes to protect our already-stressed environment.