Last week, security guards at Duke Energy's Charlotte headquarters blocked me from delivering 9,000 petitions signed by Duke customers calling on the company to clean up its toxic coal ash, in the wake of a spill that decimated 70 miles of the Dan River. It was the culmination of a dramatic rally that shone a glaring spotlight on one company’s reckless pollution practices, and the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency to finally close coal water pollution loopholes, without delay.
After keeping the crowd waiting for 45 tense minutes, a Duke spokesperson finally accepted our petitions. You'd think Duke would roll out the red carpet for the public, given all the scrutiny of this spill and their cozy relationship with NC governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee - outlined in this recent front page New York Times article with the telling headline "Coal Ash Spill Shows How a Watchdog was Defanged." Instead, they shut the door in our faces, perhaps symbolic of how they wish this whole issue would just go away.
Well, the issue of coal pollution in our water is not going away - not by a long shot.
In their coverage of the rally, CNN pointed out there are hundreds more Dan River disasters waiting to happen, at hundreds of coal ash storage sites nationwide. As I told the crowd in Charlotte, reported by CNN,
"This needs to be our last wake-up call. Our last coal ash spill."
The good news is that the EPA has the opportunity, and the authority, to ensure this is our last coal ash spill. The agency has drafted two standards (one for coal ash disposal and the second for coal plant water pollution) that could prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. The bad news is that the coal industry - including big coal burning utilities like Duke - is putting the screws to the EPA and the White House to try and make the final standards toothless. We can't let that happen.
Coal ash is a waste product from power plants, and it contains a witches' brew of toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. It may be stored near your drinking water supply - check out our new map of coal as sites to find out.
Meanwhile, in my home state of West Virginia, people are still afraid to drink their water, almost two months after a coal chemical spilled into the drinking water supply for over 300,000 people. Last week, West Virginians delivered 50,000 petitions calling on the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to take over enforcement of mining and water pollution standards, currently being run by the state. But that hasn't stopped Gov. Tomblin from continued grandstanding against EPA regulation of carbon pollution, despite the recent poll showing two out of three West Virginia voters support more enforcement and stronger environmental regulations in the state.
Over the coming weeks, we will be working hard to make it crystal clear to the EPA, Duke Energy, and all the nation's coal water polluters that enough is enough. No more delays. No more excuses. No more coal pollution spills. If you want to help now, click here to send a message to the EPA.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director