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March 25, 2014

North Carolinians Want Coal Ash Safeguards Now

Dan River coal ash spill - appalachian voices

The controversy continues almost two months after a Duke Energy spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. First, the Waterkeeper Alliance discovered Duke Energy dumping some 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into yet another waterway - the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy has been cited eight times since the Feb. 2 Dan River spill!

Now, state regulators have withdrawn the sweetheart coal ash violation settlements offered in previous years and instead have asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in to further investigate coal ash violations.

Today we released a poll showing that these inexcusable and shocking continued water violations are taking their toll on North Carolinians. Some highlights from the poll:

  • A stunning 90 percent of North Carolina voters want Duke to clean up all coal ash sites in the state, including the Dan River spill, and 88 percent feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills.
  • A large majority of North Carolina voters – 75 percent – are aware of the Dan River coal ash spill and there is broad concern about it within the state's electorate.

There is strong bipartisan support for regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance, to the tune of 83 percent of North Carolina voters, including super majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent).

  • North Carolinians, particularly those who have heard the most about the spill, place the blame for it squarely on Duke Energy.
  • North Carolinians strongly favor more regulation and enforcement when it comes to coal ash, and overwhelmingly believe that without this another spill will occur.
  • 70 percent of voters would support a candidate who favors strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of North Carolinians and to prevent future incidents like the recent coal ash spill, including 55 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.  

These results are strikingly similar to the poll we recently conducted in West Virginia. Taken together, the two polls demonstrate a clear finding that turns conventional wisdom on its head - people in states where the coal industry is still powerful want protections against coal pollution, and they want to support independent leaders who will stand up for clean air and water safeguards.  

This story is not going away, in part because residents of the affected states continue to suffer from these spills. In Charleston, residents are still not drinking their water and new test results revealed just today that the coal chemical MCHM is still leaking into the Elk River and showing up in household drinking water.

In North Carolina, officials say it will take at least two years to clean up the Dan River spill, while more coal ash problems are being revealed all the time. In Virginia, which also received some of the Dan River pollution, residents are angry and worried about their health, safety, and economy, and Governor McAuliffe has called on Duke to cover the costs of the cleanup.

The EPA has the tools it needs to prevent another Dan River spill from happening. As Politico reported this week, the EPA is coming under increased scrutiny for failing to finalize long-overdue coal water protections. No more delay – just ask the people of North Carolina. TAKE ACTION: It's time to protect our water from coal pollution.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo of the Dan River coal ash spill courtesy of Appalachian Voices.

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