N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources sides with coal company over citizens, Mecklenburg County

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A year ago, I wrote about how North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources was reviewing the pollution permits on the Catabwa River — as they do every five years — for Charlotte magazine. (Read "One Man and a River" here.) A year ago, the permits were already expired. Since then, the state conducted its review, collected comments from the public and held a public meeting.

At the public meeting, it was clear that the people who wanted less regulation in the permits worked for Duke Energy and the people who wanted more were average citizens, though even Mecklenburg County sent written comments asking for tighter regulations.

Unfortunately, NCDENR chose not to listen to the people who drink the river's water and clean the pollution out of it, but, instead, sided mostly with those who use the water to generate electricity.

From the Catawba Riverkeeper, David Merryman:

“This is outrageous!  Despite public input and outcry, (Department of Water Quality) still plans to allow the unlimited release of Arsenic, Mercury and Selenium into our drinking water supply,” exclaims Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman.  “We’ve already learned that our fish are contaminated with PCBs; you can’t keep pumping toxic heavy metals into the River, too.  The costs of removing these poisons should not be passed along to the water drinkers of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gastonia, East Lincoln County, Mount Holly, Rock Hill, and Mooresville.”

The final permits have added some requirements that were suggested during the public hearing and by the Division’s Public Hearing Officer, including weekly coal ash pond dam structural integrity inspections, a one-time fish tissue monitoring for arsenic, mercury and selenium, a re-evaluation of thermal discharge impacts to the biological community, semiannual in-stream monitoring for several heavy metals and total dissolved solids, and, very importantly, a coal ash pond closure plan for Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s primary source of drinking water.

“Appeal is an option I am not willing to eliminate,” continues Merryman.  “I am pleased to see that these final permits incorporated some of the comments and recommendations suggested by the public, but the Division of Water Quality must protect our water’s quality.”

And, now, I'll assert that this is exactly the type of situation that leads people to believe that their government doesn't pay any attention to them, their concerns or their health and, instead, bows to the wishes of corporations.

Is that an accurate assertion? Do you feel like our government officials listen to you? I'd love to read your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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