Swollen NC rivers swamp dumps, raising water pollution fears
By MICHAEL BIESECKER
Monday, September 17
As rain from Florence continued to lash the Carolinas, the region’s swollen rivers were beginning to swamp coal ash dumps and low-lying hog farms Sunday, raising pollution concerns.
Duke Energy said the collapse of a coal ash landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, North Carolina, is an “on-going situation,” with an unknown amount of potentially contaminated storm water flowing into a nearby lake. At a different power plant near Goldsboro, three old coal ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River.
An Associated Press photographer who flew over eastern North Carolina on Sunday saw several flooded hog farms along the Trent River. It wasn’t immediately clear if any animals remained inside the long metal buildings ringed by dark water.
Such farms typically have large pits filled with hog urine and feces that can cause significant water contamination if breached or overtopped by floodwaters. State environmental regulators said Sunday they had not yet received any reports of spills.
An AP analysis of location data from hog waste disposal permits shows there are at least 45 active North Carolina farms located in 100-year and 500-year floodplains at risk of being inundated by nearby streams and rivers.
Federal forecasters predicted several rivers would crest at record or near-record levels by Monday, with high water potentially remaining for days. Officials with the N.C. Park Council, and industry trade group, said farmers had prepared for the storm by lowering water levels in their waste ponds and moving animals to higher ground.
At the Sutton plant, Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Sunday that a full assessment of how much ash escaped from the water-slogged landfill can’t occur until the rain stops. She said there was no indication that contaminants from Sutton Lake had drained into the nearby Cape Fear River.
“We think the majority of the ash is settling out before it gets to the lake,” Sheehan said. “We believe the chances are minimal that coal ash constituents will make it to the Cape Fear.”
The company initially estimated Saturday that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the landfill, enough to fill about 180 dump trucks. Sheehan said Sunday that estimate could be revised after further scrutiny.
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
State environmental regulators said they had been unable to inspect the site of the landfill collapse because of flooded roadways in and around Wilmington.
“There was a failure in the lined landfill” with material moving toward Sutton Lake, said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “And so it’s imperative that we get our folks on the ground to do some water testing.”
Duke’s handling of coal ash waste has been under intense scrutiny since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge.
In a subsequent settlement with federal regulators, Duke agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. The company is working to close all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
Sheehan said Sunday that three inactive ash basins at the H.F. Lee Power Station near Goldsboro were under water. The old waste pits are capped with soil and vegetation to deter erosion.
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, floodwaters eroded part of the cap, exposing a small amount of ash that may have flowed into the Neuse River. The Neuse is expected to crest at more than nine feet (3 meters) above flood stage Monday.
At the W. H. Weatherspoon Power Station near Lumberton, flooding from a nearby swamp was flowing into the plant’s cooling pond. The Lumber River is expected to crest at more than 12 feet (3.3 meters) above flood stage late Sunday, putting floodwaters near the top of the earthen dike containing the plant’s coal ash dump.
Environmentalists have warned for decades that Duke’s coal ash ponds were vulnerable to severe storms and could pose a threat to drinking water supplies and public safety.
“Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“In this instance, it appears that Duke Energy has not done enough to ensure that its new Wilmington landfill safely stores coal ash. After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits.”
Associated Press data journalist Angeliki Kastanis in Los Angeles and writer Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh contributed.
Follow AP investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck
Reports: Florence kills at least 5, triggers flash flood emergencies in North Carolina as ‘frightening’ rainfall ensues
Excessive rainfall will contribute to more catastrophic flooding across southeastern and south-central North Carolina and into northeastern South Carolina this weekend. AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said that the persistent rain band on the south side of Florence is “just frightening.”
AccuWeather Global Weather Center – September 15, 2018 – More than 24 hours have passed since Florence made landfall and the storm is no longer a hurricane, but flooding issues only continue to mount across the Carolinas.
Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, early on Friday morning. The storm has been blamed for at least five fatalities as of Saturday morning.
AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Jonathan Petramala captures the lower level of a parking structure in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Despite this, the city has fared #Florence well,” he tweeted on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.
Nearly 1 million customers have lost power across North and South Carolina since Florence first began impacting the region on Thursday.
Excessive rainfall will contribute to more catastrophic flooding across southeastern and south-central North Carolina and into northeastern South Carolina this weekend.
Gusty winds downing trees, isolated tornadoes and coastal flooding can further damage property and increase the number of residents without power.
A flash flood emergency is unfolding across a stretch of North Carolina as a stationary heavy rain band from Florence has been sitting over the region, which spans from Wilmington to Jacksonville and Swansboro along the coast to just south of Raleigh and Fayetteville inland.
AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said that the persistent rain band on the south side of Florence is “just frightening.”
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Barrier islands protect coasts from storms, but are vulnerable too
September 14, 2018
Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Mississippi State University
Anna Linhoss receives funding from NOAA and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
Mississippi State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When hurricanes like Florence make landfall, the first things they hit often are barrier islands – thin ribbons of sand that line the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It’s hard to imagine how these narrow strips can withstand such forces, but in fact, many of them have buffered our shores for centuries.
Barrier islands protect about 10 percent of coastlines worldwide. When hurricanes and storms make landfall, these strands absorb much of their force, reducing wave energy and protecting inland areas.
They also provide a sheltered environment that enables estuaries and marshes to form behind them. These zones serve many valuable ecological functions, such as reducing coastal erosion, purifying water and providing habitat for fish and birds.
Many barrier islands have been developed into popular tourist destinations, including North Carolina’s Outer Banks and South Carolina’s Hilton Head and Kiawah. Islands that have been preserved in their natural state can move with storms, shifting their shapes over time. But many human activities interfere with these natural movements, making the islands more vulnerable.
Islands on the move
Barrier islands are made of sandy, erodible soil and subject to high-energy wave action. They are dynamic systems that constantly form and reform. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the islands are disappearing. Rather, they migrate naturally, building up sand in some areas and eroding in other areas.
New islands can form out in the ocean, either because local sea level drops or tectonics or sediment deposition raises the ocean floor. Or they may shift laterally along the shore as currents carry sediments from one end of the island toward the other. On the East Coast, barrier islands usually move from north to south because longshore currents transport sand in the same direction.
And over time many barrier islands move landward, toward the shore. This typically happens because local sea levels rise, so waves wash over the islands during storms, moving sand from the ocean side to the inland side.
Building on shifting sands
Building hard infrastructure such as homes, roads and hotels on barrier islands interrupts their lateral migration. Needless to say, beach communities want their dunes to stay in place, so the response often is to build control structures, such as seawalls and jetties.
This protects buildings and roads, but it also disrupts natural sand transportation. Blocking erosion up-current means that no sediments are transported down-current, leaving those areas starved of sediment and vulnerable to erosion.
Many sandy tourist beach towns along the East Coast also turn to beach nourishment – pumping tons of sand from offshore – to replace sand lost through erosion. This does not interrupt natural sand transportation, but it is a very expensive and temporary fix.
For example, since the 1940s Florida has spent over US$1.3 billion on beach nourishment projects, and North Carolina has spent more than $700 million. This added sand will eventually wash away, quite possibly during Hurricane Florence or the next hurricane to hit the coast, and have to be replaced.
What kind of protection?
In some cases, however, leaving barrier islands to do their own natural thing can cause problems for people. Some cities and towns, such as Miami and Biloxi, are located behind barrier islands and rely on them as a first line of defense against storms.
And many communities depend on natural resources provided by the estuaries and wetlands behind barrier islands. For example, Pamlico Sound – the protected waters behind North Carolina’s Outer Banks – is a rich habitat for blue crabs and popular sport fish such as red drum.
Unmanaged, some of these islands may not move the way we want them to. For example, a storm breach on a barrier island that protects a city would make that city more vulnerable.
Here in Mississippi, a string of uninhabited barrier islands off our coast separates Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico. Behind the islands is a productive estuary, important wetlands and cities such as Biloxi and Gulfport. Because the Mississippi River has been dredged and enclosed between levees to keep it from spilling over its banks, this area does not receive the sediment loads that the river once deposited in this part of the Gulf. As a result, the islands are eroding and disappearing.
To slow this process, state and federal agencies are artificially nourishing the islands to keep them in place and preserve the cities, livelihoods and ecological habitats behind them. This project will fill a major breach cut in one island by Hurricane Camille in 1969, making the island a more effective storm buffer for the state’s coast.
When to retreat?
Geologically, barrier islands are not designed to stay in one place. But development on them is intended to last, although critics argue that climate change and sea level rise will inevitably force a retreat from the shore.
Reconciling humans’ love of the ocean with the hard realities of earth science is not easy. People will always be drawn to the coast, and prohibiting development is politically impractical. However, there are some ways to help conserve barrier islands while maintaining areas for tourism activities.
First, federal, state and local laws can reduce incentives to build on barrier islands by putting the burden of rebuilding after storms on owners, not on the government. Many critics argue that the National Flood Insurance Program has encouraged homeowners to rebuild on barrier islands and other coastal locations, even after suffering repeated losses in many storms.
Second, construction on barrier islands should leave dunes and vegetation undisturbed. This helps to keep their sand transportation systems intact. When roads and homes directly adjacent to beaches are damaged by storms, owners should be required to move back from the shoreline in order to provide a natural buffer between any new construction and the coastline.
Third, designating more conservation areas on barrier islands will maintain some of the natural sediment transportation and barrier island migration processes. And these conservation areas are popular nature-based tourism attractions. Protected barrier islands such as Assateague, Padre and the Cape Cod National Seashore are popular destinations in the U.S. national park system.
Finally, development on barrier islands should be done with change in mind and a preference for temporary or movable infrastructure. The islands themselves are surprisingly adaptable, but whatever is built in these dynamic settings is likely sooner or later to be washed away.
BBB and BBB Wise Giving Alliance Advise Hurricane Donors to Support
Experienced Disaster Relief Charities
Columbus, OH (September 17, 2018) – In the wake of Hurricane Florence, BBB and BBB Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org) advise donors to remember that experienced disaster relief organizations are the best way to provide emergency help for victims. When making a donation, it’s also important to ask about what your contribution will fund specifically.
“This is not amateur hour,” notes Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “Give.org has seen crowdfunding posts from individuals claiming to raise funds so they can deliver and distribute water, food, and flashlights to impacted areas. Even if sincere, such efforts may risk lives, complicate access by professional efforts and potentially divert donations that could be directed in more helpful ways.”
The emergency phase of a disaster is just the beginning. Full recovery from a disaster will be a long-term activity that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. Those truly concerned about helping communities bounce back will have many opportunities to help in the future. Give.org has provided a list of BBB Accredited Charities raising funds for Hurricane Florence relief assistance.
Before donating to an organization, search for their charity report at Give.org, and follow these BBB tips:
1. Thoughtful Giving: Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice.
2. Crowdfunding: Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a tragedy or a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support.
8. Online Caution: Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or email. These may take you to a look-alike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information, or may download harmful malware onto your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media have already been vetted.
For more tips on avoiding questionable appeals, as well as a list of national BBB Accredited Charities gearing up for hurricane relief efforts, go to Give.org.
For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2017, people turned to BBB more than 160 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.
Gov. ‘Moonbeam’ says California to launch climate satellite
By PAUL ELIAS
Friday, September 14
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that the state plans to launch its “own damn satellite” into orbit to battle climate change.
The man the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko famously dubbed “Gov. Moonbeam” made the announcement at the conclusion of a two-day climate summit he organized in San Francisco.
Brown said state officials will work with the San Francisco-based company Planet Labs to develop a satellite to track climate-change causing pollutants. Brown said the earth-imaging company has launched 150 satellites.
“With science still under attack and the climate threat growing, we’re launching our own damn satellite,” he said.
The Democrat, who is leaving office at the end of the year, didn’t announce a launch date or divulge a cost estimate.
Brown’s office said government scientists and staff will work on the project, but that no state money will be spent directly developing the satellite. Private donations are being made by San Francisco investment banker Richard Lawrence and his wife Dee Lawrence along with the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.
Brown foreshadowed the announcement in a December 2016 speech to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco a month after Trump’s election. The then-president elect had threatened to scrap NASA’s climate change funding.
“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” Brown said at the time to cheers and applause from the geophysicists. “We’re going to collect that data.”
He also reminded them that he had floated a similar proposal during his first term as governor in the 1970s. The Chicago Sun-Times columnist gave Brown the Moonbeam moniker in 1976. Royko said that Brown appeared to be attracting “the moonbeam vote.”
The name stuck for decades, even after Royko, who died in 1997, apologized and tried to retract it. Brown used to dislike the name but more recently has embraced it.
Before Brown’s announcement, two prominent Democrats and a Republican mayor criticized Trump for his decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate accord.
“While Donald Trump may have pulled out of the climate agreement, the American people have not,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said opening the second day of the Global Climate Action Summit.
Kerry, also a Democrat, called Trump’s decision “the single greatest act of irresponsibility of any president of the United States at any time.”
Trump announced in June 2017 the United States’ intention to pull out of the international agreement, which Kerry signed while serving as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. The 195 countries that signed the treaty agreed to commit resources to combatting climate change.
Trump said the agreement was unfair to the United States and would hurt the economy.
Kerry’s criticism of Trump came a day after the president blasted Kerry on Twitter for meeting with high-level members of the Iranian government.
Former Vice President Al Gore followed Kerry to the stage and got a rousing ovation when he said a new president can rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Gore, a Democrat, also criticized Trump’s recent denial that 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico in 2017 because of Hurricane Maria.
Gore said it’s difficult to deny that climate change is causing more severe weather but that “It’s a little harder to deny the 3,000 deaths from the hurricane in Puerto Rico.”
James Brainard, Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana, listed a number of Republican presidents and their environmental accomplishments, including President Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. He said he was disappointed Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement.
“The president likes to talk about what a great country we are,” Brainard said. “Great countries honor their international agreements. Great countries show leadership to the rest of the world on critical issues. Great countries listen to their scientists and great countries strive to leave the world better than they found it.”
Federal funding for higher ed comes with strings attached, but is still worth it
September 17, 2018
Jason Alix Coupet
Assistant Professor of Public Administration, North Carolina State University
Jason Alix Coupet does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
North Carolina State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When nonprofit colleges and universities get federal funding for research and to support students, do government regulations make it difficult to fulfill their missions?
As a professor who studies the organizational performance of nonprofits and government agencies, I’ve tried to understand if accepting that money has any downsides in terms of the main mission of many of these schools: teaching.
Public funding cuts in recent years have eroded state support for higher education, triggering tuition increases. As a result, the cost of going to college is rising much faster than income at a time when a college education is becoming increasingly essential for American workers seeking jobs that pay well.
The federal government, however, funds meaningful research that yields scientific and economic benefits. Thousands of companies have origins in federal research funding, and useful innovations like composite lumber and kidney dialysis machines come directly from federally funded research.
But government support for higher education takes many other forms. It includes federal loans and Pell Grants, as well as funding for research and student-focused programs like TRIO, an outreach program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In exchange for the funding obtained through federal contracts and grants, schools must do specified work and follow detailed rules that govern how to spend these funds and administer the programs that get this funding. For example, funding for McNair Scholars, an initiative to increase student access to graduate-level research, is tied to regulations that govern what kinds of student support are permissible.
Some nonprofit leaders say that rules and requirements that come with federal funding can slow organizations down. Since the rules can make it harder for schools and other institutions to remain flexible, and the reporting requirements can use up valuable staff time, this extra onus may result in inefficiency.
The Trump administration has tried to justify its recent attempts to further cut federal funding with similar logic, arguing that the burdens that accompany federal funding can hurt colleges and universities.
The roots of these ideas can be found in mainstream economics. Many influential think tanks like the libertarian Cato Institute assert that governments can’t know what is best for people – including students – and therefore should have a minimal role in funding or regulating their activities.
According to this theory, heavy-handed attempts to govern the organizations governments fund can unduly slow down progress and waste resources.
But the notion that federal spending is inherently wasteful has been debunked by many studies. Researchers have found that jumping through the hoops government funding demands does not make things worse than not getting that money in the first place.
The rules that accompany government funding can, for instance, lead to a decrease in health insurance coverage disparities for people of color and widen access to special education in rural communities. Federal rules can help organizations meet important social goals and make sure funds are used for their intended purpose.
Leisha DeHart-Davis, a University of North Carolina School of Government professor, calls this effect “green tape.”
In short, federal higher education funding leads to inefficiency only if the costs exceed the benefits. But when I sought to find out whether increases in federal funding bog down nonprofit higher education institutions, I found that federal funding is unrelated to how efficiently colleges and universities operate.
No holding back
I reached this conclusion after examining financial and organizational data between 2008 and 2014. I focused on relatively small nonprofit colleges and universities like Shaw University and Loyola University, Maryland because they have limited ties to state governments and limited research expenditures.
I then reviewed their federal contracts and grants, as those are the kinds of federal support the Trump administration is most likely to cut.
First, I measured how efficient each college or university was by comparing its spending to its student outcomes. Then, I measured if increasing federal revenue would change how efficient each college was. The technique I used allowed me to take other relevant factors into account.
As I explained in the the journal Nonprofit Management & Leadership, I found that increasing federal funding had no significant effect on how well nonprofit colleges used their budgets.
Federal support increases spending on programs that support students, but this funding typically targets important outcomes – particularly for colleges with lots of first-generation students.
It also does not appear that federal grants and contracts infringe upon the schools’ student-focused missions because the spending that the federal government encourages and regulates often helps students as intended.
Moving beyond the myths
Based on my findings, I believe that instead of assuming government funding higher-education funding is wasteful, policymakers and federal agencies like the Department of Education should rely on rigorous program evaluations to guide funding decisions.
Many of the initiatives that the federal government funds directly benefit campuses. Federally funded research initiatives are not only the backbone of innovation, but can help students as well because much of the funding is for initiatives that improve student outcomes.
Even when the funded initiatives come with rules and regulations, many commonly aired assertions to justify major cuts are not backed up by data that I can find.