McCrory’s Coal Ash Cronies: When Misleading the Public Pays Off

McCrory’s Coal Ash Cronies: When Misleading the Public Pays Off

In February of 2014 a pipe burst at a Duke Energy plant, spilling 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan river. For many in the state, it was the first time they had ever heard of coal ash, or worried about the potential hazards. While the Dan river spill was eventually stopped, the disaster raised awareness statewide about the 14 coal ash facilities operated by Duke Energy.

These other sites are constantly leaching toxic chemicals into the ground and hundreds of North Carolina families living near these coal ash ponds have discovered that their well water is contaminated. In March of 2015 the State of NC sent do-not-drink notices to hundreds of families and Duke Energy began providing regular shipments of bottled water that these residents have to use for everything from bathing to brushing their teeth. 

McCrory repeatedly chose Duke Energy over the people.

In the wake of the spill, and the discovery of coal ash contamination in well water, environmental groups and concerned citizens heavily lobbied McCrory to force Duke Energy to clean up all of the coal ash, and to make them pay for it. Unfortunately, as a 25 year employee of Duke Energy, McCrory has consistently worked to defend Duke Energy. His administration refused to demand that all coal ash ponds be cleaned up immediately, and he lowered the penalty Duke Energy faced and held a secret meeting with Duke Energy executives at the Governor’s Mansion. Meanwhile McCrory has refused to meet with any of the residents impacted by the coal ash contamination. Folks like Deb Baker just want to know if their water is safe to drink. 

NC Division of Environmental Quality Secretary Ronald Van der Vaart and State Health Dr. Randall Williams misled the public again and again and again.

Van der Vaart and Dr. Williams have been experts at dodging important questions about coal ash and minimizing the impact of coal ash on North Carolinians. In March 2015, they deemed the well water of those living near coal ash ponds unsafe to drink, however in March 2016, suddenly the water was completely fine to drink again, according to Van der Vaart and Williams. Nothing had changed in terms of the toxicity of the well water though. The water was just as contaminated as it was a year before, Van der Vaart and Williams were simply trying to ignore the problem.

Here’s a short list of things Dr. Williams falsely claimed:

1. In a letter to well owners, Dr. Williams falsely claimed that toxic well water was as safe as nearby municipal water.
2. In an interview with WLOS-TV, Dr. Williams falsely said that Duke Energy had no influence in repealing Do Not Drink orders.
3. In an interview with WTVD-TV Dr. Williams falsely said there was wide consensus within scientific experts at DHHS that it was appropriate to repeal Do Not Drink orders.
4. Under oath in a taped deposition, Dr. Williams falsely said that he would call families who had hex chromium levels over 10 ppb and reinstate Do Not Drink Warnings. He did so only after reporters read the depositions and discovered that well owners had gotten no new warnings.

Following all of Van der Vaart, Williams and McCrory’s lies to the people, state officials began to step down in protest.

Megan Davies, State Epidemiologist, stepped down in a scathing letter, stating “I cannot work for a department and an administration that deliberately misleads the public.” This was a direct result of Van Der Vaart and Dr. Williams efforts to mislead the public on coal ash contamination. The resignation highlights just how bad what Van Der Vaart and Dr. Williams actions have been. 

Now, thanks to Pat McCrory and cynical maneuvers, both Van der Vaart and Williams will be sticking around for years to come. 

Van Der Vaart recently demoted himself to a staff position so that despite a new administration coming into power, he cannot be removed. And with only 30 hours left in office, McCrory appointed Dr. Williams to the state oil and gas commission, guaranteeing him a six-figure job for years to come. After years of misleading the public, neither Williams nor Van Der Vaart should ever be trusted with safe guarding public health again. 

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Eleanore Wood

Digital Director

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