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Mary Chitty

Dr. Angela Miss

UWRT-1102

18 July 2017

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundations Impact on Society

No one can dispute that energy is a necessary component for our society to survive. The

question we must consider as a society is what cost are we willing to pay for that energy to be

produced? The energy manufactured in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and surrounding areas come

predominantly from Duke Powers Coal Power Plants. Why does the power company utilize coal

to create its energy? Very simply it is a cheap form of energy. It allows the power company to

provide the citizens with cheap efficient power which saves them money (Environmental

Impacts). This scenario sounds like a win win situation. Citizens get cheap consistent power and

the power company can produce and sell energy to its customers at a lower price

(Environmental Impacts). But is this situation as good as it appears on the surface? In order to

answer this all important question, one must delve deeper into the current situation between the

Duke Energy Power Company and the environmental concerns arising in the Charlotte-

Mecklenburg area.

In order to better understand the situation, it is helpful to look at some background material

pertaining to the initial inquiry. Not too long ago the governor of the Tar Heel state, Pat

McCrory, sought to increase industry and did so by limiting the states environmental

organizations (Semuels). Slashing state environmental regulations and showing leniency toward

industrial pollution helped stimulate the local business sector, but at what cost? North Carolina is
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home to several Fortune 500 companies, Duke Energy being one of them. What once started as

the Catawba Power Company at the start of the twentieth century has since grown into what is

now the nations largest utility company (History-Our Company). With close personal ties to

McCrory, the energy giant took advantage of the new legislation and became relaxed with their

industrial waste management (Semuels). Harmful chemicals that are common byproducts of coal

burning for power generation began to appear in local drinking water near Duke Energy power

plants.

The most affordable, abundant and mass produced energy source in the United States is

coal. Due to coals accessibility and low costs, almost half of the nations energy is generated

from fossil fuel (How Much Coal is Left). For decades Duke Energy has engineered and

operated one of the most efficient fossil generating systems in the country. More efficient energy

manufacturing results in lower operating costs and essentially lower energy rates for Duke

Energy clients. However, variations in chemical components in coal differ across the nation

(History-Our Company). The transportation costs required to ship the coal to the power plant

is a major factor in the variation of coal that is used. The emissions released from combustion of

the coal also depends on its specific makeup. Therefore, some forms of coal burn cleaner or with

less emissions than others. Strict national regulations regarding coal ash disposal and air filters

aims to maintain air and water quality (How Much Coal is Left). According to Duke Energy,

every coal-fired power plant holds strict permits to ensure the safety of local waterways. Water

quality test and regular maintenance to ponds that house hazardous byproducts, such as coal ash,

are also performed by the company in efforts to prevent potential pollution (History-Our

Company). Through constant endeavors to find new innovative ways to lower the cost and
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pollution associated with coal-burning plants Duke Energy strives to uphold government

regulations and provide the most efficient energy available.

With coal being one of the nations primary source of energy it is not surprising that coal

ash is one of the largest forms of hazardous industrial waste manufactured in the country.

Invasive mining and transportation of coal throughout the nation contributes to a significant

amount of water and air pollution. The emissions and potential hazards to the environment

continue when the fuel is burned. During combustions heavy metals that are biologically and

environmentally toxic are released (Environmental Impacts of Coal). Lead, arsenic, mercury

and particulate matter are just a few examples of harmful pollutants expelled from coal-burning

power plants. Filters are often placed to help reduce emissions, however, this does not prevent all

of the toxins from being released into the environment (Coal Ash Basics). Coal power plant

emissions not only contribute to toxic air pollution but also acid rain and smog. The byproduct of

burning coal consists of more harmful heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. Utility

companies place the waste material in a lined pit or pond that is filled with water. Lack of lining

and/or poor maintenance may further harm the surrounding community. The EPA has imposed

stricter coal-ash regulations due to recently negligence of utility companies, specifically Duke

Energy (Environmental Impacts of Coal). When coal-ash ponds are not properly maintained

toxic compounds, such as carcinogenic bromides, may leach into local drinking water and

pollute vital water sources for the local community (Coal Ash Basics). Exposure to coal-ash

increases the risk of nervous system disorders, cardiovascular and respiratory problems and even

cancer (Environmental Impacts of Coal). Water contamination due to coal-ash has become a

hot topic for thousands of individuals living in North Carolina.


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Who steps into the ring to take on the nations top energy corporation in order to

protect the citizens from the rising health risks due to coal produced energy? Cuts to the states

environmental regulation administrations and loose legislation under the McCrory administration

meant an outside force would have to step in to protect the Charlotte residents. This David and

Goliath scenario has the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) taking on this energy giant.

What is the role of the Catawba Riverkeeper? You can think of the CRF as your water Guardian

Angel. This job requires being ever vigilant in keeping watch over the big energy corporations

that utilize coal burning technology to produce the much needed energy in the area. This small

non-profits mission aims to protect North Carolinas Catawba-Wateree River Basin. Consisting

of nine-thousand total miles of rivers and over fifty-thousand acres of lakes, the Catawba River

basin provides drinking water for over two-million individuals (Semuels). This river basin is also

vital for the areas energy production for both nuclear and coal-powered plants. Due to heavy

use, poor water management and power generated pollution, the Catawba River basin has

repeatedly been named one of the nations most endangered rivers (Semuels). Through water

protection and advocacy, the CRF acts as a watchdog for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community.

In 2014 residents living near the Dan River power plant received a notice from Duke

Energy informing them that their water had been contaminated and unsafe to use. Locals were

shocked to find that their water had elevated levels of harmful substances such as carcinogenic

hexavalent chromium. This particular accident occurred when a pipe ruptured, spewing 39,000

tons of coal-ash into the river (Semuels). The corporation pled guilty to environmental crimes,

but this lawsuit only pressed environmentalist to test for pollution at other power plants. From

2012 to 2015, Duke Energy has been in constant litigation for several for releasing unpermitted

chemicals into water sources (Semuels). Sam Perkins, a scientist for CRF, and a team of
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volunteers actively test the local waterways for harmful chemicals. He stated that his

organization had discovered high levels of heavy metals in waterways that were used by Duke

Energy. After reporting the findings to the state legal actions were never made. The Southern

Environmental Law Center (SELC), a non-profit legal organization, had charged the energy

company for violating the Clean Water Act several times. The CRF teamed up with the SELC to

seek legal actions against Duke Energy which evolved into a federal investigation. It was

revealed during the trial that constant water testing done both through state and local

organizations suggested that Duke Energy coal-ash ponds were the culprits, however, legal

charges were never made by the state. The state regulators were not incompliance with the Clean

Water Act and the EPA standards. According to Chuck McGrady, a pro-environmental state

legislature, the McCrory administration sacrificed the states environmental committees for

industry in hopes for the state to become for business-friendly (Semuels). It is important to note

that scientific experts cannot conclude that every incident was due to coal ash contamination.

One research conducted through Duke University found that elevated levels of hexavalent

chromium were found in groundwater throughout the piedmont regardless of coal-ash pond

location. This suggests that the occurrence is naturally rather than manmade (Vengosh, 410).

Bringing the energy giant to justice is quite a Herculean task for a small non-profit

environmental organization like CRF

After several years of damage litigation and sentencing for Duke Energys environmental

violations are wrapping up and the state has enacted stricter regulations environmental

regulations. Unfortunately, in national news the actions of the current presidential administration

seem to mirror North Carolinas approach on environmental regulation. The months following

the inauguration of the new administration have brought an onslaught of environmental changes
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that has left the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wavering (Semuels). Appointing a pro-

business politician as head of the agency along with cutting staff and funding looks eerily similar

to the environmental approach North Carolina took a not so long ago. If the events seen in North

Carolina is any indication, the nation could expect more pollution and less accountability for

environmental violators. Without the help of the EPA, the American people will have to standup

against massive corporations and fend for themselves.

Regardless of the possible national outcome, it is clear that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg

community has a watchdog organization that is working to keep our society safe. While not all

water pollutants can be blamed on coal-fired power plants, it is reassuring to know that there are

organizations such as the CRF who are keeping an ever watchful eye on the publics safety and

willing to prosecute corporations of all sizes that cause harm to the environment. As a concerned

citizen I sleep better at night knowing there are groups watching out for my safety regarding

water and air. Without the help of CRF there would be an increase in citizens with deadly

medical conditions and clean drinking water would be a luxury.


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Work Cited

"Coal Ash Basics." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

"Environmental impacts of coal power: fuel supply." Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d.

Web. 30 July 2017.

"History - Our Company." Duke Energy. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July. 2017.

"How Coal Works." Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2017.

"How Much Coal Is Left." How Much Coal Is Left - Energy Explained, Your Guide To

Understanding Energy - Energy Information Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.

Semuels, Alana. "The Saga of North Carolina's Contaminated Water." The Atlantic. Atlantic

Media Company, 18 Apr. 2017. Web.

Vengosh, Avner, Rachel Coyte, Jonathan Karr, Jennifer S. Harkness, Andrew J. Kondash, Laura

S. Ruhl, Rose B. Merola, and Gary S. Dywer. "Origin of Hexavalent Chromium in

Drinking Water Wells from the Piedmont Aquifers of North Carolina." Environmental

Science & Technology Letters. 3.12 (2016): 409-414. Print.