Posts tagged journalism
Posts tagged journalism
Say the words “coal ash” to most North Carolina residents and until recently, you probably would get a blank stare.
Lookit: The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is putting documents online! Whoopwhoop.
Thank you for pointing out in your March 23 editorial “Before coal ash spill, GOP was bashing environmental rules, groups” that the spill into the Dan River from Duke Energy’s 1968 coal ash pond was not the fault of the McCrory administration. How gracious.
Someone should tell the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources that their repeated critiques of the press and defensive posturing mostly come across as whining.
Stop your bloviating, Skvarla. Seriously. Just because you can call a press conference and convince a newspaper to publish anything you want doesn’t mean you should use that power.
Or, as President Lincoln once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
In fighting for the clean-up of coal ash ponds around the state, the Southern Environmental Law Center has depended on an unusual weapon, North Carolina’s public records law, to make its case about the dangers posed by the lagoons of toxic sludge that dot the state.
The group has filed multiple requests for public documents over the last two years with various state and local agencies and amassed thousands of pages of documents detailing the level of monitoring of the 30 plus coal-ash ponds and information about contamination of groundwater at 14 coal-fired plants owned by Duke Energy.
America’s largest industrial accident tore apart town of Kingston, Tennessee. Five years later, has the industry learned…
Very, very cool way to present the story; worth a look.
If you’re following the coal-ash spill saga out of North Carolina, then you already know that both Duke Energy and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have been subpoenaed and are expected to appear before a grand jury in Raleigh, N.C., March 18 - 20.
Don’t think that there will be live-tweeting or live-streaming from the grand jury, though … those proceedings are held in secrecy for a reason: This is the federal government’s way of deciding if it will indict someone for a crime, and it doesn’t want to tip that person, or those persons, off.
If the feds do indict someone, then things will move toward a trial and more access will likely be granted to the proceedings and documentation.
If things get to that point and you plan to attend the proceedings, here are some things you might want to read or access first:
Also, as a reporter who’s covered federal court proceedings in the past, here are a few personal pro-tips:
If you’re receiving this email, it means you’ve made a public records request of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources regarding coal ash or the coal ash spill in Eden. The public records requests regarding coal ash have been assigned to one of our staff attorneys. He is working to fulfill some other assignments as well.
I wanted to let you know that we will try to keep you apprised of the latest regarding your public records request. But I would ask that you please be patient with us as we work to pull these records together as efficiently as possible. We’ll be in touch regarding the best way to make this information available to you.
Public information officer
N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
1601 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1601
Email correspondence to and from this address is subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.
Oh, wait … they didn’t mean the Guns ‘n’ Roses song? My bad.
It took days for them to release a list of task force members — all of whom are DENR employees.
Now, in an email sent this morning, I’ve been told this:
From: Walker, Michele [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, March 3, 2014 11:52 AM
Cc: Kritzer, Jamie; Massengale, Susan
Subject: FW: Coal Ash Task Force — members and meetings
The coal ash task force meetings are internal meetings of DENR employees, and as such are not open meetings. Also, because they are not public meetings, minutes are not taken, so neither minutes or transcripts are available.
What this note is telling us, kids, is that a public agency’s committee made up entirely of public employees is conducing meetings in private, they claim they aren’t keeping notes … and now we know they’re making decisions on a critical public- and environmental-health issue completely in the dark.
So much for transparency, huh?
The 2013 inspection report was emailed to me by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), so I’ve posted it online via Google Docs here. (PDF)
The next most-recent report, filed Dec. 2, 2002, is available on the N.C. Utilities Commission website here.
Some important considerations:
Until 2009, coal ash impoundments — or earthen dams — were excluded from the state’s Dam Safety Act of 1967. They were regulated under the authority of the Utilities Commission until 2010.
In 2010, regulatory authority was shifted — via legislation from the N.C. General Assembly — to NCDENR. While the authority was shifted, the documents were not, as was clarified at a press conference earlier this week.
More, pre-2010 the inspections were to be conducted every five years. Post-2010 they were to be conducted every other year (though I’ve heard some media outlets and even NCDENR say every year; been trying to double check myself whilst being distracted with admin work … so, look for that ASAP).
Again, the two inspection reports I’ve linked to here are the two most recent inspection reports for the Dan River plant that I’ve been able to obtain, so whenever they’re supposed to be inspected they’re clearly not being inspected every year or every other year.
NCDENR officials have said that they have requested that the state’s energy companies (prior to a merger, we had two big ones — Duke Energy and Progress Energy; they’ve merged) to voluntarily hand over past reports.
At present, I’m trying to find these other reports. Below, I’ve copied and pasted text from an email request for documents to NCDENR and the N.C. Utilities Commission’s attorney. He told me that the documents are likely in the state’s archives, that they’ll take “a long time” to retrieve, and that it usually costs 25 cents per page for such things.
I’ve asked for the state to waive the cost of sharing these PUBLIC DOCUMENTS for the greater good. We’ll see what happens.
As described in the 2006 MACTEC inspection report:
The four most recent previous independent consultant inspections were performed by Law Engineering Testing Company in 1986 (Job No. CHW.5475) and WKD Geoscience in. 1991 (Job No. 11008) and by Law Engineering & Environmental Services, Inc. in 1996 (Job No. 30100-6-2038) and in 2001 (LAW Job No. 30100-1-0949). The results of these inspections were presented in reports dated June 20, 1986, October 23, 1991, November 20, 1998 (the inspection field worle was performed December 30, 1996 but the final report was not issued until 1998), and December 18, 2001.
"Top officials of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources beat a silent retreat Wednesday from an hour-long press conference on the Dan River coal ash spill as reporters shouted unanswered questions to their backs."
Elliot called an end to the conference at 1:30 p.m. and was immediately greeted with objections from the crowd of more than three dozen reporters at the conference. When reporters continued to press Elliot and Skvarla with questions, Skvarla, Reeder and two other division heads got up and walked out of the conference without further comment.
Guess who was shoutin’? Our very own Rhiannon Fionn. The last shout: “Why are you running away from the press?”