Coal Ash, Water Quality Standards and Solar Bees

My internship with the Sierra Club is winding down now, with only a couple days left. The legislature is still in session, with no end in sight.

Since my last post, the Coal Ash bill was debated in the House. It was a long, heated debate. The Second Reading on the floor lasted over 4 hours and there were over 20 amendments proposed.There was a big controversy when one of the amendments passed, which would have added the Cape Fear Plant to the list of high priority coal ash sites to be cleaned up. Leadership scrambled to flip votes and through a procedural move, they reopened the vote at the end of the reading and voted down the amendment. Many good amendments were also tabled to avoid putting members on the record with a vote. Tensions were running high with the close of the debate. The bill moved to its third reading the next day in the House, where it was debated for another couple of hours, with a number of amendments proposed. The house version of the bill ended up being quite a bit different from the Senate’s version, which is why the Senate voted not to concur. This means that the bill will be in conference. Both the House and Senate pick conferees to work on a compromise. Right now, it seems like they will never come to a compromise as neither side seems willing to give up what they want.

We have been in a limbo with the legislature still in session, but not making any decisions. The legislators are still fighting over the budget. Once they come to an agreement on that, hopefully they can agree on the Coal Ash bill and end session. We thought that we were close to an end as bills we opposed that didn’t pass last session began to resurface. It has been difficult to keep track of them all as they reappear and fly through committees. I have been working on summaries and factsheets on them to try and keep legislators apprised of what is happening.

I also gave a public comment on behalf of the Sierra Club at the Triennial Review Hearing to DENR and a member of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) on Water Quality Standards. The water quality standards are supposed to be reviewed every 3 years, but have not been reviewed and changed since 2006. Since it has been so long, we are behind on a lot of our standards. The EPA has gotten involved, which is why there was a hearing. North Carolina is proposing to upgrade our water quality standards for toxic metals to the nationally recommended criteria. My comment to DENR and the EMC was to add methylmercury, which is highly toxic to humans and is currently not regulated in North Carolina. People in North Carolina are typically exposed to methylmercury by eating fish and shellfish, which means we cant eat all the fish we want due to the health risks.

One of my big projects throughout the summer was to create a legislative summary of the session. This is a summary, which includes a highlight, who it was sponsored by, what the bill does, our position on it and the story behind it, of all the bills we watched throughout the session. The legislative summary goes out to our members so they can see what we worked on throughout the session. Check out last session’s here.

A Solar Bee being assembled before launched into Jordan Lake

A Solar Bee being assembled before launched into Jordan Lake

On one of my last days with the Sierra Club, I went kayaking on Jordan Lake to see the controversial Solar Bee’s put in the lake. Solar Bees are giant water mixers that are supposed to help stop certain types of algae from blooming. Legislators delayed the Jordan Lake Rules, which was a nutrient management plan that would reduce the amount of pollution going into the lake, in order to launch the controversial Solar Bee pilot program.

Close up of a Solar Bee in Jordan Lake

Close up of a Solar Bee in Jordan Lake

Kayaking on Jordan Lake

Kayaking on Jordan Lake

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