Opinion

Drinking Water Is Contaminated By Junk Science, Not Coal Ash

Scare tactics, bad science and political theater are the few tools remaining in the environmental extremists’ tool belt now that Donald Trump is President and Scott Pruitt is head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, since they no longer have a supportive White House to do their bidding, environmentalists are training their sights on states, like North Carolina and Virginia where they think they can exert some influence.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) tried to pull one over on the people of Virginia by filing a suit claiming that coal ash from Dominion Power was a major health risk to the people of Virginia, but an Obama appointed federal judge put a stop to their antics by finding no threat to the people or the environment from coal ash. Further, the judge found the remediation demands of the SELC and its client, the Sierra Club, to be out of bounds. He ruled the removal of the coal ash would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions “for very little return.” In short, common sense rather than environmental hysteria prevailed in this case.

In North Carolina, the SELC is using similar tactics, asserting that coal ash from power plants is seeping into and contaminating groundwater. This was shown to be false in a study conducted by Duke University late last year. But, this hasn’t stopped the SELC from trying to scare North Carolinians with information so fatally flawed it borders on deception.

The SELC is attempting to be opportunistic by taking advantage of existing fears over groundwater that are at least partly due to a “do not drink” order that was issued for Gaston and Rowan Counties in 2015 then later lifted. Just like the Duke University study, it was determined the substances found in the water were naturally occurring.

Duke Energy was proactive in addressing the concerns of those impacted by the “do not drink” order and supplied the affected homes with drinking water at no charge. The company even offered to continue to supply drinking water to these homes after the order was lifted.

In a previous effort to make its case, the SELC brought in Kenneth Rudo, a controversial former state toxicologist whose standards and conclusions have been called into question. For example, Rudo recommended that the N.C. standard for chromium-6 in water be limited to 0.07 parts per billion (analogous to 7 seconds in 3,300 years) and asserted that chromium-6 is unsafe at any level in any water supply. By comparison, the U.S. EPA set the safety standard at 100 ppb and a scientific paper in the Journal of Applied Toxicology concludes that even drinking water with chromium-6  at the level of 210 ppb does not pose a cancer risk.

The solution SELC has demanded is to move the coal ash to landfills that are lined and watertight. However, such a move would cost billions and provide no benefit. And, the costs will ultimately be passed on to the consumer through higher utility rates. In addition to the utility rates will be the additional billions in tax dollars that must be spent to repair and maintain the roads, highways and bridges used by thousands of heavy trucks.

These tactics, pseudo-science and theater are aimed squarely at hurting energy production in North Carolina, but it ultimately does its greatest damage to the consumer. The hardest hit will be the poor, minorities and the elderly.

Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, stated that Hispanics and blacks already spend between 10 to 50 percent more on utilities than white families. And seniors on fixed incomes cannot afford to see the cost of heating and cooling their homes rise.

To the SELC, this may be a war on fossil fuel energy, but ultimately, let’s call it what it is: a war on the consumer. It’s an effort that stoops to the lowest level to achieve its goal. The Ohio EPA director called a similar campaign in his state “scare tactics.” He couldn’t be more right. That’s all this is, and that’s all these environmental extremists can muster because the scientific facts simply don’t support their claims.

Rather than allowing scare tactics, bad science and political theater drive our policy decisions, we should rely on real scientific research that produces reliable facts that consumers and taxpayers can trust. This is the way to provide the best outcome to protect the environment, consumers and taxpayers.

Steve Milloy is a senior legal fellow at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute and the author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA.”