Editorial: Stakes high, responses awaited

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 11:53 PM

Vision, vitality, variety.

Those are more than the words inside the Vance County seal. They are the stakes being played out about 80 miles in different directions from Kerr Lake.

Immediate concern from the third-largest coal ash spill in United States history, on the Dan River, is our drinking water from Kerr Lake. The Dan flows to the lake and thus far, gratefully, tests for water quality meet standards.

Future concern lies to the south and the activities of Thomas Walker, the U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District; Gov. Pat McCrory; the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources; state lawmakers; and Duke Energy, which admits accountability for the spill.

Mitigating factors will be any number of environmental groups and lobbyists. Coal ash is more than the sizzled by-product of coal burned to generate electricity.

It remains, despite multiple attempts, unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It remains a topic inside the Beltway.

This spill — 82,000 tons worth of coal ash and 27,000 gallons of contaminated water — is not by itself likely to change EPA regulation. The largest, 1.1 billion gallons in Tennessee in 2008, didn’t either.

Vance County’s recovery from the latest recession has been slow, even arguably non-existent. One of our greatest assets is the water from Kerr Lake and its potential to spur industry growth through a unique four-county governmental partnership known as Triangle North.

Loss of water could be catastrophic to our economic recovery. We don’t think that is likely.

Walker, an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, has issued subpoenas for a grand jury. McCrory, a Republican, views regulations on businesses as job killers. DENR’s statements on being a partner to businesses it regulates can be taken as downright scary and inappropriate. For the record, when lawsuits arose before the spill, McCrory advised DENR to protect the environment and do the right thing.

Lawmakers, currently, are Republican majority and operating more business-friendly than not. Duke Energy is the largest electric power holding company in the country, with power beyond electricity.

Thankfully, Walker’s involvement can keep investigative discoveries transparent. DENR’s responsibility is to all citizens, not partisan political interests.

Ultimately, our stakes will be decided by the ensuing responses of McCrory and lawmakers.