By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: Your neighbor has spilled toxic waste in your yard. You take him to court. Your lawyer stands up and tells the court the neighbor should clean up the mess he made in a “reasonable time.”
“I’ll do better,” His Honor says. “I’ll tell him to clean it up immediately.”
“Hooray!” you think. “I got more than I asked for!”
Then your lawyer announces he’s appealing the judge’s ruling. Immediately is too soon, he says. We want that nice, squishy “reasonable time” language.
You might be upset. You might wonder whose side your own lawyer is on. And you’d be right. But that’s pretty much what happened last week when our state Environmental Management Commission was in court over the problem of coal ash contamination by Duke Energy, aka Duke “Progress” Energy.
State regulators have known for years that coal ash is nasty stuff. It’s a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and contains poisons like arsenic, selenium and cadmium. It’s been piling up in wastewater ponds owned by Duke Energy for years.
But they’ve been sitting on their hands until a coalition of environmental groups sued last year under the Federal Clean Water Act. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources finally got off its butt and filed environmental violations against Duke’s coal ash pits, but only after meeting with Duke Energy’s chief lobbyist.
Then they immediately offered to settle with the $50 billion company for $99,112. Duke could probably pay that out of the change in the couch cushions at its headquarters.
After a stormwater pipe in one of the ponds sprang a leak, dumping as much as 39,000 tons of the ash into the Dan River, the public outcry caused DENR to back out of the sweetheart deal with Duke. So you might have thought that when the matter came to court, the EMC, which “oversees and adopts rules for several divisions” of DENR, might take a sterner line, especially after Gov. Pat McCrory suggested that his administration would get tougher with Duke.
You might have thought that, but you’d be wrong. The EMC argued that it didn’t have authority to order an “immediate” cleanup. When Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said, “Actually, you do,” you might have thought that EMC might go, “Cool. We can do a better job defending North Carolina’s environment now.”
You might have thought that, but you’d be wrong again. EMC, apparently deciding that a toothless watchdog was a good thing to be, announced that it would be appealing the ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals. Tell me again: Whose side are these guys supposed to be on?
I’m sure all this has nothing to do whatsoever with the fact that McCrory worked for Duke for more than 28 years. I’m sure the fact that Duke has provided more than $1.1 million in support to McCrory campaigns since 2008 has nothing at all to do with the fact that the people he tasked with protecting our environment are in court arguing for an easier ride for the people who are trashing it.
It’s true that the governor directly appointed eight of the commission’s 15 members (including one of Duke Energy’s former lawyers), and the remaining seven members were appointed by Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, both McCrory allies.
But I’m sure that has absolutely no influence over the way our so-called environmental regulators are bowing and scraping to McCrory’s former employer and biggest supporter and asking, “Sirs, we don’t want to bother you, sirs. How much time would you like to clean up the horrendous mess you made, sirs? … Until you’re doggone good and ready? That would be fine, sirs. Please excuse us, and feel free to kick us in our behinds on our way out.”
If you truly believe none of that is connected, I have some waterfront property to sell you on the Dan River. Cheap.
Oh, and by the way, shame on you, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, for your complicity in this farce. I actually had some hope for you for a while, but you’ve turned out to be just another remnant of the limp and weak Perdue administration, whose fecklessness and corruption made it possible for these oligarchs to take over and sell us out to the highest bidder while you drew up the sale papers.
Thanks to McCrory and his cronies, thanks to the people who voted for them, and thanks to the lame and wimpy Democrats who made it all possible, it’s Duke Energy’s state now. Their state, their water, their dumping ground.
They own it. We just live in it, unless we get off our own behinds and vote these rascals out.
Via: J.D. Rhoades