The fox did not watch the chicken coop

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On March 9, the editorial in the Washington Daily News read, “What if it was here?” Well, folks, it is here. Martin Marieta Mining has all the necessary permits to begin work on the open pit mine and begin to dump up to 12,000,000 gallons of wastewater into Blounts Creek. The very agencies that are charged with protecting our waterways issued the permits in violation of state laws. But this is not very surprising in light of what happened to the Dan River. Duke Energy spilled 39,000 TONS of toxic coal ash into this river. How could this happen?

The headline in the Feb. 28 edition of the New York Times said, “Ash Spill Shows How Watchdog Defanged.” How could this happen? Well, the Times revealed that “officials” in DNR used intimidation and threats to get their soldiers in line and to get them to do what was needed. Employees were told, “if you don’t like it, you’re gone.” They were told to focus on “customer service.” This governor has reduced the number of employees protected by civil service appointments from 179 to 24. Employees charged with enforcing the law and cracking down on polluters are now at risk of losing their jobs. Unfortunately the customer has proven to be a corporation seeking permits not the taxpayers and the environment.

Under the federal Clean Waters Act, citizen groups may sue polluters if state regulators do not do their job. Last year the DNR blocked lawsuits brought against Duke by environmentalists which if successful would have required Duke to relocate these ash piles to lined pits. Instead DNR allowed Duke to pay a small fine ($99,111 — small relative to the size of the company ) and to study the ash problem — customer service! Now — after the ash spill the DNR has reversed their position and is requiring Duke to relocate the ash to lined pits — sounds exactly like what the environmentalists were trying to accomplish. All it took was a disaster. Seventy miles of river bottom are now coated with toxic material. Aquatic plant and wildlife are already dying. This tragedy will require a massive clean up and millions of dollars of expense. Will the estimated $1 billion cleanup costs be passed on to the ratepayers? What do you think? Is this how the governor plans on increasing employment. Oh by the way, in case you did not know, the governor worked for Duke for 28 years. Duke is headquartered in Charlotte and the governor is the former mayor of Charlotte. I have been told that Duke has contributed one million dollars to the McCrory campaigns. Could that be why they received a fine instead of being required to clean up their mess? I forgot — the governor did not have anything to do with the fine — that was DNR! Who is controlling DNR? I wonder.

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed many documents related to Duke and the ash spill from DNR. Many employees of DNR are named in the subpoena including Mr. Tom Reeder. You may remember him from the public meetings. He told us that the DNR was committed to “Customer Service.” Tom is a good soldier — he followed orders. However a soldier is only required to follow “lawful” orders. Was it lawful to issue a permit that violates state law? We now know for sure that we are not the customers he was serving.

We should not have to wait until the disaster occurs before we take action. Dumping 12,000,000 gallons of wastewater into Blounts creek will dramatically change this fragile ecosystem. We should not have had to go to court to force DNR to enforce the law. That is their job. These permits never should have been issued. It is my hope that the Federal Prosecutors will expand their investigation into all permits issued by DNR since it was stripped of its regulatory powers by intimidation and threats. I urge you to contact your Federal elected officials and request that the investigation be expanded.

An article in the Washington Daily News dated March 31 says, “worried about getting a fair shake from investigators, Duke Energy is asking a judge to shield it from North Carolina regulators and environmental groups.” They want to be treated fairly! Have they treated the environment fairly? Have they treated the ratepayers fairly? Perhaps they have treated the shareholders fairly — keeping down expenses, maximizing profits — at what cost to the environment? If Duke had done the “right thing” instead of the cheapest or easiest thing, they would not now have to be defending their actions. The same can be said for those government officials who facilitated this mess.

I am a capitalist and I guess somewhat of an idealist. I believe that big business can be environmentally friendly and still make a profit. Many of them do. Sadly, history has demonstrated time and again, unless regulated, some big business takes the cheapest way out. Maximize profits today – worry about cleanup cost some other day. If you are lucky and have contributed enough to the right campaigns — perhaps you will never be required to clean up or someone else (usually us — the tax payers) will have to do it.

We were told at the public hearings that Martin Marietta would be required by the permit to monitor the effects of the discharge into Blounts creek. I pointed out at that meeting that having the fox watch the chicken coop did not give us a high degree of confidence. The Dan River fiasco is a great example of how well the fox does its job — the job that DNR is supposed to do!


Ed Rhine is a former educator and Blounts Creek resident.