Third Largest Coal Ash Spill in U.S. History

Early last month 39,000 gallons of coal ash spilled out of a storage pond at a Duke Energy facility located on the banks of the Dan River. The result is that 70 miles of river bottom has been coated with this toxic waste and river life and drinking water supplies have been put in danger. The incident has brought to light the close relationship between Duke Energy and the state’s new Governor, Pat McCrory, who worked for the utility giant for 28 years.

It is stories like this that show how important our state agencies are. It is critical that agency staff be allowed to enforce the laws without fear that doing their job will cost them their job. This story also highlights why citizens groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center play an important role in the enforcement process.

For more on this story check out the coverage on
If you want to stay up to the minute on what is happening with this spill or find out what you can do, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Waterkeeper Alliance, as well as many other groups are tracking and responding to this spill.
-Chelsea Kadish
Posted in Coal, Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, Policy, Water | Leave a comment

In the Arctic, it hasn’t been this hot in 44,000 years!

In the early Holocene period, our current geological period beginning around 11,700 years ago, approximately 9% more energy from the sun struck the Arctic region, causing a peak in the natural cycle of Earth’s temperatures. Today, as shown in a new study from UC Boulder, less solar radiation is producing temperatures higher than not only that peak but any peak before it for at least 44,000 years. More from


-Benjamin Groff

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Homegrown Baltimore!

Baltimore Office of Sustainability has drafted an urban agriculture plan to promote farming within the city limits. Review the plan HERE: and Submit comments until October 25th, 2013.

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Did City Government Roll Dice On Cleanup?

Did Baltimore and the state of Maryland improperly approve cleanup of the location upon which a casino will be built?  At least until that question is answered, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge has stopped this project’s construction.  Westport residents (south Baltimore) have brought a suit alleging collusion among the city, the Maryland Department of the Environment and a gaming consortium named CBAC Gaming.  The plaintiffs believe that these organizations have avoided regulations to clean up “highly contaminated” Westport land.  This case may generate quite a bit of attention given the debate surrounding casinos in the state of Maryland following “the most expensive political campaign in Maryland’s history” to approve a casino in Prince George’s County last fall (so dubbed in a November 2012 Baltimore Sun article).  How might the operations and construction surrounding this Baltimore casino affect the Prince George’s casino?  It is something worth following in upcoming headlines.

More in the Baltimore Sun, here:

– Christopher Chaulk

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Chesapeake Bay Watershed Contamination Affecting Yellow Perch?

A three-year study has uncovered developmental issues in a bird called the yellow perch. The yellow perch inhabit several waterways in Maryland, which share a degree “of development along their banks” in common. The report details changes to the reproductive characteristics of the birds. While it does not signal a clear causal link to any one contaminant, scientists indicated that natural forces like “cold weather and heavy rainfall” were unlikely to have caused such changes. They contended that “metals and pharmaceuticals” and other chemicals have damaged the reproductive capacities of the yellow perch. The study coincides with another recent report about contamination of the Chesapeake Bay and pushes some unsettling questions forward about our fish and water sources. More from the Baltimore Sun, here.

– Christopher Chaulk

Posted in Anne Arundel County, Charles County, Chesapeake Bay, Department of Natural Resources, Eastern Shore, Fish and Wildlife, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lawmakers Debate Garrett County Wind Project

The complexity surrounding environmental issues hangs over key debates among Maryland lawmakers this year.  The Baltimore Sun examines the advantages and drawbacks surrounding a new wind project in Garrett County.  The project would bring much-needed revenue to the county, for example, its school budget, said the Synergics’ president, Wayne Rogers.  Moreover, the project delivers on the call for more power from renewable energy sources, which Maryland law is pushing.  That said, others have raised concerns about erosion and pollution problems, both of which the state’s first two wind projects caused.  A wildlife biologist noted that runoff from rock and dirt could spill into the Savage River, for example.  Scientists from the state have also encouraged that lawmakers consider the endangered species that could be affected by such a project, namely rare bats.  Finally, a unique element of this debate concerns time.  Those opposed to the project push for more scrutiny, while the leading company, Synergics, is striving to complete the project before the end of the year, motivated in part by a federal tax credit for renewable energy projects.  With so many stakeholders involved, this project will no doubt continue to spark much debate.

Read the Sun article here

– Christopher Chaulk

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New Bill Would Mandate Residential Utility Usage Reporting

According to the Energy Information Administration, around 40% of home energy use in 2009 was related to heating and cooling, and heating and cooling have to do with the energy efficiency of the home. Several states (New York, Maine, Alaska) and cities (Austin, Santa Fe) have recently tried to encourage property owners to make efficiency upgrades by passing laws mandating the reporting of energy usage data. This term, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill which would do the same. House Bill 0040, introduced by Delegate Carr from District 18 in Montgomery County, would require specific energy usage information to be reported for certain homes. Montgomery County already has a similar law in place.

The goal of these laws is to encourage money saving energy efficiency improvements, which also reduce power consumption and carbon footprint. One of the hurdles to making those investments is the fear that if the property is sold within several years, the seller will have paid for improvements lasting decades which are hard to quantify through the property value assessment process. If reporting is required, prospective home buyers will be better able to compare concrete energy usage data and factor the relative operating cost of the home into their purchasing decision.

The new bill would require reporting of information about usage over the 12 months preceding marketing of the home, granted that the seller (or vendor) has owned the property for that period of time. The data provided, which can come in the form of actual utility bills, or can be as simple as a record of the costs for the property, is not supposed to be considered a warranty of any kind, and the failure to provide information can not be used by a subsequent purchaser to get out of a sale. These measures weaken the law, but also improve the chances that it will be adopted.

Around the country, some laws are a bit tougher. Austin, TX for example, requires an actual energy audit to be performed prior to the home sale (Read about Austin’s ordinance  at the ACEEE website here). The requirement of reporting however, will at least encourage  energy efficiency awareness on the part of vendors and buyers, while not imposing costs or headaches on the housing market which may discourage or impede that sectors faltering recovery.

Read about HB 0040 at the Maryland General Assembly Site here.

– Ben Groff

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