NRDC and Allies Strike Back Against Environmental Assault by North Carolina Lawmakers

What's the matter with North Carolina? There are countless stories about how the new crop of lawmakers in Raleigh—led by the Republican majority in the state legislature and the governor's mansion—have over the past year launched an unprecedented assault on environmental safeguards. Whether it's attacking the state's modest renewable energy standards, turning the state environmental agency into a toothless tiger, cutting conservation funding, or weakening water quality protections, the list goes on.

I wasn't born in North Carolina but I grew up visiting the beaches every summer and later lived in the eastern part of the state when I headed the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. My son was born in Greenville and my family enjoyed the state's natural beauty, from the mountains to the coast. And for the past few years I've been working on land use and transportation policies in the Charlotte region for NRDC. For all these reasons I'm dismayed the tide has turned against protecting the Tar Heel state's environment.

But all that is about to change. Simply put, Carolina's conservation groups are fed up—and they are gearing up to fight back like never before. On behalf of our 5,000+ members and supporters in the state, NRDC is proud to be part of this well-coordinated effort.

Just recently NRDC ran a series of hard-hitting TV ads calling for Gov. McCrory to take immediate action to clean up coal ash pollution. (You can view those ads here and here.) This was in the wake of last month's massive spill from a Duke Energy dump, which coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge. Long before the disaster, local groups have been trying to get Duke to clean up dozens of so-called coal ash ponds that threaten water quality all over the state. Unfortunately, the McCrory administration stymied those efforts—and now we see the real danger of delaying action on coal ash pollution.

It's not like this should have been a surprise, of course. Back in 2008 a coal ash spill 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred at a power plant facility outside Kingston, Tennessee. I worked on that issue and even posted NRDC's first blog on the disaster. Since then, NRDC has continued to push hard at the federal level for more protective standards for coal ash storage—in the face of congressional attempts to block new safeguards at the behest of dirty energy interests. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finally issue those new rules this December. But until EPA acts, North Carolinians and residents of other states are left relying on their state lawmakers to do their jobs and protect them from disasters like the one still playing out on Dan River.

As the Wall Street Journal reported:

"Recent studies before the spill by Duke University scientists near Duke Energy's storage ponds and at the site of a 2008 coal-ash spill near Kingston, Tenn., have found that some coal-ash ponds have been leaking contaminants such as arsenic into rivers and leaching into groundwater. Coal ash contains toxins such as arsenic and selenium, which can be harmful in high concentrations."

The coal ash cleanup is obviously the major problem facing North Carolina's environment at the moment. But another looming threat comes courtesy of the natural gas industry. I'm talking about the controversial drilling technique known as "fracking."

The General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are on a headlong rush to open the state to fracking. Already, at their direction, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission has approved rules that would let fracking companies keep some of the chemicals they pump into the ground secret, and the commission is paving the way to let these companies frack under North Carolinians' property whether they want it or not. What happens next depends on whether North Carolinians stand up to fracking—or stand aside and let out-of-state fracking companies determine the state's future.

NRDC trustee James Taylor, who grew up in North Carolina and still has Carolina on his mind, pointed out the dangers of fracking in a recent television ad.

We're now stepping up our involvement as a founding member of a powerful new coalition called the North Carolina Environmental Partnership. Together with many other environmental groups in the state, we are standing up to the broad and continuing threats to basic environmental safeguards that are coming from the legislature and the governor's office. Through our combined efforts, the new North Carolina Environmental Partnership will make sure the public knows about lawmakers who are eschewing their duties to protect North Carolina’s clean water, air and communities.

Beginning today, the new partnership is launching a major ad campaign that focuses on three state lawmakers who are part of the rush to open the state to fracking and the dangers that come with it. In addition to representing areas that could be affected by fracking, these lawmakers are emblematic of what the legislature and the McCrory administration are doing to the state: Turning it into one big customer service bureau for polluters, at the expense of protecting the state, its quality of life and the people who live there. 

Lawmakers should be protecting Carolina's water, air and unparalleled quality of life…instead of destroying all that makes is such a special place. We simply cannot—will not—stand silently by as polluter-friendly politicians dismantle basic safeguards for water, air and the environment in blatant violation of North Carolina's constitution, which clearly states:  

“It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.”

—N.C. Constitution, Article XIV, Section 5

Anybody who cares about clean water, clean air and the environment in North Carolina should be very worried about what's happening in Raleigh these days. To learn more about our campaign and to join us in stopping this damaging environmental assault, visit:

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