The Aug. 30 letter “Protecting North Carolina’s environment” from Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart left me more than a little perplexed.
The secretary’s piece repeatedly conflated wishful thinking with facts – so much so that the summary of his department’s record on clean water is basically a work of fiction.
Van der Vaart’s first attempt to rewrite history was his claim that “even after record rainfall last spring and fall, waterways remained protected with no major incidents or unauthorized discharges.” Despite what he claims, in the past year hog farm waste lagoons have spilled over into adjacent waterways – just last February there was a discharge of more than 15,000 gallons of hog urine and poop into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, and numerous sewer overflows have polluted water across the state.
In his letter, van der Vaart congratulated himself and the McCrory administration for being a “national leader” on coal ash, and the “first state to enact a comprehensive law that requires every coal ash pond to be closed.” But the truth is that the state got involved in the coal-ash fight only because residents and advocacy groups dragged it kicking and screaming into it.
It took legal action from these groups against the coal-ash polluter Duke Energy, and a massive environmental disaster on the Dan River, to even begin a conversation on coal-ash cleanup. Only then did the state step in, largely to play defense for the governor’s former employer.
And in the end, instead of excavating our leaking coal-ash pits like South Carolina has done, van der Vaart is poised to allow many of them to remain in place, polluting our water for the rest of time. That isn’t leadership on coal ash.
Van der Vaart weakly argued that because of a change to the gasoline standard we now have a regulatory system that better protects our water. Like they say on ESPN, “C’mon, man!”
Under van der Vaart’s leadership, political appointees at DEQ have systematically removed every regulatory vertebrae from the agency, leaving the department intended to protect the environment and public health completely spineless.
Give van der Vaart credit for getting one thing right, though. He said, “Over the last three years, we have taken steps that benefit consumers and businesses by eliminating outdated or overly burdensome regulations.” These regulations may be called burdensome by polluters, but what DEQ has done under van der Vaart’s leadership is eliminate important safeguards that protect North Carolina’s fishable, swimmable, drinkable water.
DEQ has made it very clear who the customer is in this administration’s “customer service” approach to regulation. Polluting businesses like Duke Energy and Smithfield Foods can now operate entirely free of fear that the state will hold them accountable for the harm they do to our air and water.
Upper Neuse Riverkeeper
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the letter.