What if it was here?

Published 7:10 pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lately, Duke Energy has been in the news because of an unfortunate event: 82,000 tons of coal ash dumped into the Dan River. A toxic sludge, of arsenic and other heavy metals, resulted. Now dead mussels and clams are piling up downstream of the coal ash spill. Now a new leak has been found — one into a ditch that leads to the river.

Now, what is interesting is that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources apparently preempted three 2013 lawsuits aimed at Duke Energy and filed by environmentalists and regulators, to try to compel the energy giant to clean up their coal ash dumps around the state. Those lawsuits, filed before the big spill, were whittled down to the proposal by DENR for a $99,000 fine against Duke Energy.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources intervenes in three lawsuits and gives a potentially catastrophic situation — aging coal ash dump sites near major waterways — a pass and proposes a tiny fine. Is this the agency that is tasked with preserving and protecting our natural environment?

The Dan River seems very far away. Most of us probably had to look it up on a map to figure out where it was to begin with, if we even bothered at all.

But what if the Dan River was right outside our door, like another river? What if we all knew there was a possibility that something around here, some toxic chemical, was in real danger of spilling into our river and we wanted the owners of said toxicity to stop it before it happened. At risk would be the livelihoods of crabbers and some fishermen; our leisure time on the river wakeboarding, tubing, fishing and taking a dip to cool off; our tourist revenue, gone, for they can’t boat, they can’t swim; our every sunset marred by the stink of the dead or dying, like the dead and dying mussels and clams on the Dan River.

What if it happened here? Would we be disillusioned with an agency that is supposed to protect its environment and its people? Likely.

We’re lucky we don’t live on the Dan River. We’re lucky there’s no coal ash pond threatening to spill into our river. But we’re probably not so lucky to have this DENR, the DENR of Tom Reeder (Director of Division of Water Resources) and John Skvarla (Secretary of DENR), looking out for our “best interests.”

Perhaps we should keep in mind that this is the same agency that has rubberstamped the Martin Marietta Mine permitting.