Governor McCrory may want to consider Flint

A few months ago, the state of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality said the water was safe to drink near a coal ash site, only one year after saying it was not. I think many of us were puzzled by this reversal and I am sure that affected residents were in some disbelief.

Apparently, they would have been wise to not believe this reversal per the testimony of Ken Rudo, a state toxicologist. In his testimony, he chastised the leadership of the Department for its reversal saying they were endangering the public and made criticisms of the governor for at least being aware of the change in position.

Last week, the state epidemiologist, Megan Davies, resigned due to the Governor McCrory administration’s “false narrative.” The McCrory administration said Rudo lied under oath and both the state health director and assistant secretary in the Department of Environmental Quality fired off a public statement saying “Rudo’s unprofessional approach…does a disservice to public health and environmental protections in North Carolina.”

Really? I am having a hard time reconciling how being precautious does a disservice to public health. We only need to look north to Flint, Michigan and see what happens when state officials mask the risk of toxic water to a population. Nine current and former state of Michigan officials have been now been criminally charged because of hiding a problem which caused lead poisoning in a number of children and adults. As of yesterday, the problem is still being remedied with an increase in non-lead exposed homes from a low of 9% last fall to 45% as announced by Virginia Tech who is monitoring the progress.

Let’s break this issue in North Carolina down further. A toxicologist testifies under oath to inform the court that people living near the coal ash sites have remained at risk to dangerous toxins in their water. If he is lying, he will go to jail for perjury. His boss, an epidemiologist, resigns in support of the toxicologist’s claims. She left her job at a personal financial cost to protest the misrepresentation to the public. And, we are supposed to ignore these scientists and believe the governor’s administration? It should be noted the governor used to work for and remains a friend of the company whose coal ash is causing the issues.

So, my recommendation would be to believe the scientists who have risked so much to tell the story that the public may have been lied to about the safety of their drinking water. I would also recommend the governor’s administration take this seriously and revisit the issue. Because if they don’t and it turns out that Rudo and Davies are indeed correct, some folks in the McCrory administration may be censured, fired or worse. And, that might include the man running to keep his office, whether he wins or not.

For more on the story prior to Davies’ resignation, please refer to the attached link to a PBS Newshour report.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/state-health-director-may-covered-toxic-water-north-carolina/

Water problems have been around for ages

The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book calledWater: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.

Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a  major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
  • In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
  • In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
  • It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
  • Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.

I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.

Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights. Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.

We cannot rely on Erin Brockovich to save the day

Three recent events have flooded my brain with the need to call out to Erin Brockovich. She is a real life person portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie by the same name. Not to spoil it for others, but she fights for the disenfranchised whose water has been polluted by an electric utility that denied such linkage. Yet, we should not be made to rely on white knights like Ms. Brockovich, to make business and government leaders do the right thing.

The first event is the most well-known, with the city of Flint facing a huge water crisis when the state of Michigan tried to save money by retapping into water from the Flint River using pipes that had significant lead build-up. The story goes deeper when state officials were aware of issues and did nothing. People complained and they did nothing. The people had tests done by a reputable source and the findings were denigrated. The governor holds much of the blame for letting his state down. Finally, the tidal wave of complaints and notoriety reached a boiling point and something is being slowly done. I think it can be successfully argued that if this was a more affluent community, action would have been taken sooner.

The second event is the continuation of the coal ash leakage in North Carolina. Duke Energy has been ordered to pay another fine for the Dan River coal ash spill last year. In their own documents, the company knew dating back to 1986 that the pipe that breached was not the type that would survive long term. They also failed to spend on at least two occasions $20,000 to fix the pipe as late as 2007. On top of this, the company has continually denied that people living near other coal ash dumps have water that is contaminated. They have been ordered to do something with these sites, but are accused of using faulty data leading them to a conclusion away from moving the coal ash, which is the more expensive solution.

The third event is equally disappointing about a disappointing court case. About thirty Republican-led states are suing the EPA on violating its authority under the Obama Clean Power Plan requirements which phase in changes over time. My state is one of those states, which is odd as we can easily meet and blow past the plan being the 4th most prolific state in solar energy. The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday to freeze the implementation requirement until the court case is completed, a ruling even surprising the complainants. On top of the campaign finance rulings, this may have been the poorest ruling I have witnessed by this court. It is very disheartening and runs counter to what the world needs us to do to address climate change.

We cannot rely on Erin to save the day, We cannot rely on governors to always do the right thing, as it is not uncommon to look to save money at the expense of citizens who are less inclined to vote for them. We cannot rely on business leaders to “be more than profits” and invest in our community and remedy actions when they are harmful. We must pressure our leaders to think about the environment. Truth be told, the groundswell of actions that have been occurring have propelled us forward. In fact, the best thing coming out of Paris is The Breakthrough Energy Coalition which is led by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. But, we need government and industry to do their part and help, not hinder these efforts.

Our biggest risks over the next ten years, as measured by the World Economic Forum, are actions on climate change and our global water crisis (the latter goes beyond Flint, but we cannot waste water). Yet, neither of these topics is discussed by one political party and the other does not talk enough about them to distinguish themselves for voters. We can ill-afford a President who does not address these issues going forward. And, we certainly do not need one who said “global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs” and who unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to stop them from putting wind mills off the coast of his golf course development.