Now I know how David felt

Published 5:51 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Contributed by Ed Rhine

We went to the public hearings. We asked important questions and raised real concerns and got no answers. The folks at DENR listened to the highly paid consultants from Martin Marietta and issued the requested permits.

Prior to that many former Civil Service positions at DENR were replaced by politically appointed positions, removing any protection the employees might have had. The leadership was replaced with “Good Soldiers” ready and willing to carry out orders. Our Governor was determined to make NC a business friendly state. This apparently means that any existing laws that get in the way of profit can either be ignored or the legislature would gladly replace them with laws more favorable to the corporations. This worked quite well for Duke energy. They were allowed to stockpile tons of coal ash (which were polluting the ground water) for years until one of the holding ponds burst releasing tons of toxic material into the Dan River. Thousands of fish and other marine and aquatic life forms were killed and the river will take decades to recover.

The response from DNER, the state agency tasked with protecting our waterways was a slap on the wrist. Not until the Federal Government intervened did we see any meaningful consequences. The EPA levied more than a million dollars in fines and required billions of dollars to be put in reserve. Who do you think will get to pay this bill? Without a doubt it will be passed on to the rate payers. Big business does everything it can to maximize profits — and that is what they are supposed to do. However, they choose to cut corners to take the cheapest way to solving problems rather that the more expensive but correct way. Why transport toxic coal ash and dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner when you are allowed to just pile it up and forget about it? Let it become someone else’s problem and let the taxpayers pay for the cleanup. Business will maximize its profits and we the taxpayers will get to pay the bill for all the shortcuts they take.

This is the atmosphere that exists as a small group of concerned citizens tries to raise public awareness and to save Blounts Creek from the 12,000,000 gallons of waste water that MMM is going to be allowed to dump into the small tributaries flowing into this estuary. Changing the Ph, increasing the turbidity (making the water muddy) and flow rates will cause a dramatic change in the life forms currently calling this wetlands home. Blounts Creek is the spawning grounds for a number of species including the speckled trout and striped bass. The Department of Fish and Game has raised concerns and objections only to be ignored by DNER.

MMM claims that the impact of the 12,000,000 gallons will be negligible at the mouth of the creek. They freely admit that the discharge will have a dramatic effect on the tributaries but not at the mouth of the creek. If you go far enough away from a problem it become less of a problem, The 12,000,000 gallons will not even be registered in the middle of the Atlantic ocean so “no problem.”

We went to court to attempt to have the permit reversed. The administrative law judge asked our attorneys many questions, several involving our right to bring this action. What standing did the public and the Pamlico Tar River Foundation have and how was the issuing of the permit harming us?

The judged ruled in favor of MMM. He reached the same conclusion — negligible impact at the mouth of the creek. More importantly, he ruled that we had no standing and therefore could not challenge the decision made by DENR. Apparently the State can do whatever it decides it wants to do and we the citizens have no right to challenge their decision. In this case, we are convinced that the State and DENR are allowing this company to violate the Federal Clean Waters Act. We believe that this law was enacted to protect existing waterways from exactly this type of abuse.

We appealed and within days a second administrative law judge dismissed our case again deciding that we had no standing. Taxation without representation, you bet! We the citizens, the ones paying the bills, including the salaries of these government officials have, according to these two judges, no right to question the decisions they make.

David fought one giant. We are fighting many: the Governor, DENR, Martin Marietta, and now the judicial system. We need the Federal Government (EPA) to step in as they did in the Duke crisis and make these officials enforce the existing laws.

From the beginning of this process we have never attempted to stop MMM from mining the stone they seek. We have always focused on their plan to dump the wastewater into Blounts Creek. They know that they are going to drastically change the ecosystem but they do not care. This is the cheapest solution to the disposal of the wastewater and the bottom line rules. It is easy to maximize your profits at the expense of the creek and the taxpayers if those people who are charged (and paid) to protect them are ignoring the very laws that they are morally and legally bound to enforce.

You may not care about what happens to Blounts Creek, but I encourage you to think about the consequences of these judges rulings. According to them, you have no right to question anything the government does — no matter what laws they violate! Think about it!

Ed Rhine is a Blounts Creek resident.