Remember that coal ash retention pond owned by Duke Energy that leaked nearly 30 million gallons of toxic slurry into a river in North Carolina? Well the government agency that was supposed to regulate that company’s facility was instead helping protect it. And the governor worked for Duke Energy for 28 years. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
Over the last year, environmental groups have tried three times to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke Energy to clear out leaky coal ash dumps like the one that ruptured last week, spewing enough toxic sludge into a North Carolina river to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools.
Each time, they say, their efforts have been stymied — by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The state agency has blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal act to take enforcement action. After negotiating with Duke, the state proposed settlements where the nation’s largest electricity provider pays modest fines but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.
Clean water advocates have long complained that state regulators are too cozy with the polluters they regulate. But they say that coordination and cooperation has become even more overt since the January 2013 inauguration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years…Amy Adams was a regional director at the state environmental agency in charge of enforcing surface water standards for 21 North Carolina counties before she resigned in protest last November. A nine-year veteran of the agency, she said she was directed in her last months to help polluters meet compliance standards, rather than issue violations or fines.
“We have a governor right now that has very close ties to Duke, the state’s largest polluter and a major political contributor to his campaigns,” said Adams, who now works for the environmental group Appalachian Voices. “Under the new administration, North Carolina has changed the definition of who its customer is from the public and the natural resources it is supposed to protect to the industries it regulates. There’s been a huge push away from environmental protection and toward promoting economic growth.”
Since his unsuccessful first campaign for governor in 2008, campaign finance reports show Duke Energy, its political action committee, executives and their immediate families have donated at least $1.1 million to McCrory’s campaign and affiliated groups that spent on TV ads, mailings and events to support him.
After winning in 2012, McCrory has appointed former Duke employees like himself to key posts, including state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker.
His appointee to oversee the state environmental department, Raleigh businessman John Skvarla, describes his agency’s role as being a “partner” to those it regulates, whom he refers to as “customers.”
How entirely unsurprising. Many state environmental regulatory agencies are largely bought off by the businesses more responsible for polluting those states. Here in Michigan, Dow Chemical has long had the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality in its back pocket.