Posts tagged journalism
Posts tagged journalism
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?”
NCDENR is getting ready for its close up. They had the first slide of their presentation up pointing out that state legislation was passed in 2010 under Gov. Bev Perdue. The next bullet point was “no enforcement action” taken. Get ready for the blame game, kids. Here comes the political posturing. Let’s see if they point out the 57 years that NCDENR wasn’t in charge of coal ash regulations since the impoundments were exempt from the Dam Safety Act of 1967 and under the regulatory authority of the N.C. Utility Commission … which is under the department of Commerce.
When they saw me trying to take a photo of the slide, it was taken down.
Unfortunately, not hearing back from the EPA is not new news.
The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) has repeatedly asked the EPA and other departments within the Obama administration to demonstrate the transparency we were promised by the president when he was a candidate.
As recently as Jan. 22, 2014, the SEJ and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) have asked the federal government to stop blocking the information flow, especially where human health is concerned. (Read the letter.)
But, the “officials” didn’t think it appropriate to tell the media or the public this when they found out — on Tuesday. No, the “officials” felt it more appropriate to send out a press release about their fears at roughly 7:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.
Back at the spill site, Duke Energy officials and state regulators were trying to downplay the effects even as the river turned a deathly looking grey. Biesecker and Broome started to find the elements of a very different story when they hit the river, the only journalists to do so at that point.
If you’d like these documents emailed to you, contact us.
Because you deserve to know what’s in your water. That’s why.
I understand you’re hoping to learn more about sampling results. Right now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Incident Commander, so we’re routing media requests through the Unified Command Public Information Officer. Contact info is below—have you spoken with Angela or Trish? Please let me know if we can do anything else.
Public affairs specialist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region
For some background on how little I care for these bullshit PR games from the government, read this.