Friday, February 28, 2014

Another story of regulatory failure in rural America

Trip Gabriel reported for the New York Times today from Raleigh North Carolina about the Dan River coal ash spill that occurred earlier this month near Eden, North Carolina, population 15,908.  The spill of 39K tons of coal ash by Duke Energy, the nation's largest utility, coated the river bottom 70 miles away.  The event is shedding a harsh new light o the de-regulation of the industry by North Carolina's Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, a 28-year employee of Duke.  Federal prosecutors are now investigating the relationship between North Carolina's environmental regulators and Duke Energy.  Here's an excerpt:
Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers. 
“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.” 
From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”
I am reminded of the many stories out of Charleston, West Virginia last month, where lax regulation appeared to be to blame for the chemical spill into the Kanawha River, a spill that left hundreds of thousands without safe drinking water.  Read more herehere and here.  As in North Carolina, the failure of --or resistance to--regulators seemed to be a significant factor.  

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