One benefit of having Republians in control of the North Carolina legislative and executive branches is the media rediscovers its calling as a watchdog of government overreach, negligence, and corruption.

I guess government only acts this way when the GOP is in charge.

The left in NC is all over the story of the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River. They believe Gov. Pat McCrory is guilty of ... something ... because he worked at Duke for almost three decades before he ran for governor in 2008.

Duke owns the Dan River facility that spilled tens of thousands of tons of toxic ash into the water. See? McCrory is guilty as hell.

 

 

Some background

In the 1960s, Duke Energy apparently built and expanded a retention pond above an underground wastewater pipe.

That pipe was not concrete, but corrugated metal. As such, it eventually broke. On February 2.

To hear the Democrats tell it, that pipe shattered because the Republicans repealed some regulations and took political campaign donations from Duke Energy in 2013.

This week, the Governor and GOP leaders expressed support for dealing with coal ash ponds - something the environmentalist movement has been advocating for years.  Which begs the question - why hasn't anything been done before?

The GOP took control in 2010. But the big coal ash spill in Tennessee occurred in 2009. An attempt to address coal ash ponds was defeated in the NC General Assembly at that time. Democrats were in control.

[Rep. Pricey] Harrison, a member of the commission, tried to sponsor similar legislation in 2009, after a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee drew national attention. That bill was quashed – when the Legislature was still led by Democrats – because of pressure from energy-industry lobbyists.

 

Activist Bob Hall, from Democracy North Carolina, just put out a report outlining the donations from Duke to NC Republicans last year. Only last year.

It was dutifully regurgitated by liberal media folks who held it up as proof of corruption. No mention was made of the $10 million donation to the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

If money is a signal of corruption, the standard should apply in a bipartisan way.

But one thing about this story seems completely overlooked and unexamined: Why is the State allowed to short-circuit a lawsuit against the power company?

 

 

Blocking lawsuits by suing

According to the reports, environmentalist groups told the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that it intended to sue Duke over the coal ash ponds. DENR promptly filed its own lawsuits against Duke. This allowed DENR to "cut in line" ahead of the environmentalist suits.

The state agency has blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal act to take enforcement action. After negotiating with Duke, the state proposed settlements where the nation's largest electricity provider pays modest fines but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.

Clean water advocates have long complained that state regulators are too cozy with the polluters they regulate. But they say that coordination and cooperation has become even more overt since the January 2013 inauguration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a pro-business Republican who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years.

- See more at: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/nc-regulators-shielded-dukes-coal-ash-pollution#sthash.8crvzQc1.dpuf

The state agency has blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal act to take enforcement action. After negotiating with Duke, the state proposed settlements where the nation's largest electricity provider pays modest fines [about $99,000] but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.

What's the rationale for this law? Who authored it? Was politics involved in its crafting? Were donations made to lawmakers?

It also makes me wonder why the environmental groups waited until there was a Republican Governor before suing.

Environment Secretary John Skvarla responded by asking why environmentalists had waited five years after a landmark ash spill in Tennessee to take their own action.

“It seems like to me that if it were all that important they would give me more than 17 days after I walk in the door” in January 2013, he said. “And what did DENR do? We filed four lawsuits against 14 power plants. ... Do you think you just snap your fingers and put 14 lawsuits together overnight?”


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/02/17/4702243/sharp-exchanges-spice-state-meeting.html#comments#storylink=cpy

A fair point. But there it's impossible to believe the DENR suits were not intended to stiff-arm the environmentalists' litigation.

 

 

The free market requires lawsuits

To proponents of larger government, everything is a reason to expand the power of the state. In this case, they see the failure of the State to prevent an accident through regulation as proof that more regulations are needed. If only someone else were in charge! If only there was a different rule!

Here's the editorial staff at the Raleigh News & Observer:

[US Attorney Thomas] Walker has made environmental protection laws a priority, a welcome contrast to the overall philosophy of the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, who vowed to ease regulations on business, which he and his mates like to call “job killers.” The implication of McCrory’s policies is that regulation is bad and businesses should be pretty much left to their own devices and trusted with protecting the air and water.

Walker’s not so sanguine about all that, and already has won criminal sentences and civil penalties against hog farmers, for example.

The point of the subpoenas is to find out all about DENR’s regulation policies with regard to Duke and what types of correspondence the company has had with Duke since January 2010. McCrory was a long-time Duke Energy employee, as were others in his administration.


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/16/3623187/a-federal-probe-of-the-coal-ash.html#storylink=cpy

The free market system only works if there is legal recourse for damages inflicted upon other parties. Duke should pay dearly for the mess the company made. Those punishments send messages to others in the marketplace that polluting is too costly.

The $99,000 sweetheart settlement deal initially offered to Duke by DENR does not.  It actually undermines the free market system. But that deal was only possible because of the law that allowed the State to preempt the environmentalist lawsuit.

The failure of the regulatory regime should not prompt greater reliance on, and expansion of, that same regulatory regime.

One solution: eliminate the protection and allow lawsuits to come on a first-come basis. Also, institute a "loser pays" rule to reduce frivolous lawsuits.

It seems equality under the law should be something upon which both Democrats and Republicans can agree.