Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Roundup: Covering for Coal

02/11/2014

Photo by John D. Simmons/Associated Press The coal ash pond at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. after the spill.

North Carolina’s environmental protection agency shielded Duke Energy from citizen lawsuits over coal ash dumps like the one that gushed into the Dan River last week.

Ken Ward Jr., over at the Coal Tattoo blog, says the state of West Virginia has used similar tactics to protect polluters there.

Environmental groups in North Carolina have sued three times in the last year, using the federal Clean Water Act to try to get electricity producer Duke Energy to take care of leaky coal-ash containments. At the last hour, when the suits were headed to resolution, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources stepped in to assert its authority over the cases.

In each instance, Duke Energy escaped with a small fine and no changes at the coal-ash storage sites.

Ward chronicles several similar suits in West Virginia against coal and chemical industries that ended in similar fashion.

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The Danville, Virginia, Register & Bee talks to people who lived through the nation’s worst coal-ash spill in Roane County, Tennessee, where a TVA coal-ash containment burst into the Emory River, destroying homes and property, fouling water supplies and drastically lowering property values.

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Twitter users are more likely to be urban residents, reports Ad Age. It’s not surprising. But we hadn’t seen it quantified before:

… Twitter users are 20% more likely than non-users to live in a city and 28% less likely to live in a rural area. Twitter users are 16% more likely to be Hispanic and 10% more likely to be black than non-users, and 54% of Twitter users have no children or grandchildren, compared to 34% of non-users; 45% of Twitter users own a home, compared to 64% of non-users. And 40% of Twitter users describe themselves as early adopters, compared to just 23% of non-users.

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A New Mexico Senate committee is considering a bill to shore up the finances of the state’s rural hospitals, including several that “could be on the brink of closing.”

New Mexico is accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. We’ve seen a lot discussion linking rural-hospital financial problems to states that decided not to expand Medicaid. The Albuquerque Journal article links the financial crisis to changes in reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare and a decline in rural population.

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Like a vague licorice smell, questions still linger about the West Virginia chemical spill that affected the drinking water of 300,000 people. First and foremost: Is the water safe to drink?

At Monday’s congressional hearing on the chemical spill the answers were less than confidence-inspiring.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre avoided a direct response. “As a water company, we don't set the standards,” said Jeff McIntyre, “but we are in compliance with all the standards.”

And our favorite quote from McInyre: “Just because you can smell something doesn't mean it's not safe.

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The battle over climate-change policy splits more or less along party lines. The mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, a Republican, thinks otherwise and says leaders need to think more about their constituents and less about party doctrine.

“When we drilled down closer to it ... we realized our heritage and ancestors were based on those sustainable, green principles,” Mayor Bob Dixson told NPR. “If you take care of the land, it will take care of you.”

Dixson has helped rebuild his community after the 2007 tornado that killed 11 and destroyed 95% of the town. He’s worked across party lines to address climate change and rebuild his community.

“We perceive certain things when we hear ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ — preconceived ideas of what Republicans or Democrats think on issues — when in fact, it should come down to what do we as citizens think on these issues,” Dixson said. “It’s about us as a society surviving and the ability to endure, and that’s what true sustainability is.”

NPR also has a piece on the climate hubs that the Obama administration is creating in regional USDA offices.

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An Australian farmer is suing his neighbor over the loss of organic certification. The farmer says genetically modified canola seeds blew onto his land, contaminating his fields and causing him to lose certification on 70% of his land. The BBC reports that the case is dividing the community and the farmers, who used to be friends. The story also says the case could be an important precedent in determining farmers’ rights.