Opponents to New York natural gas pipeline push energy efficiency, renewable options FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Crain’s New York Business:New York is a city of canyons. But for Ashley Fallon, a child of Breezy Point who now lives in Rockaway Beach, her portion of Queens can seem closer to California than Manhattan. The view from her surfboard might include any of three species of whales, two kinds of dolphins and baby seals. Walking on the beach, she sometimes spots the rare snowy owl.Fallon knows the beach was not always this clean or the water this full of life. That is one reason she has joined a coalition of local civic and environmental groups fighting the proposed Williams Transco natural gas pipeline. The groups, including Surfriders Foundation, 350.org and the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, insist the pipeline could inflict lasting environmental damage on the area.The 24-mile expansion of existing pipeline infrastructure would run 17 miles underwater, from New Jersey’s Raritan Bay across lower New York Bay to a Transco pipeline already in place three miles offshore from the Rockaway Peninsula. The projects supporters are no less passionate than Fallon. They say the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, or NESE, will address a looming natural gas shortage in Brooklyn and Queens and on Long Island that could inflict lasting damage on the region’s economy.The battle is playing out amid another gas shortage that has raised alarms across the region’s business community: Con Edison has declared a moratorium on natural-gas hookups in southern Westchester. As of March 15, the utility said, it will not be able to guarantee service for new projects, effectively stifling developments. National Grid, Williams’ partner in the NESE project, is warning of a similar moratorium in Brooklyn and Queens and on Long Island should New York not approve the billion-dollar pipeline by May 15. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which is weighing public comments, could block the pipeline if it found the project does not comply with the state’s water quality standards.But the project’s critics maintain the energy sector is at a tipping point, with new technology making strides in efficiency, and renewables having more potential. They cite gains from new boilers, building retrofits, eco-friendly building codes and more efficient electric heating and cooling systems.“You have to consider the alternatives now more than ever,” said Tom Sanzillo, a former New York state deputy comptroller who is director of finance for the pro-renewables Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “And the reason you have to do that is because conditions in the industry are changing so fast and there are more and more alternatives and innovations.”More: Business groups say natural-gas delivery has reached a crisis point. Environmentalists agree
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Denmark’s Ørsted A/S is ramping up its expansion into the U.S. renewables market, where it expects continued cost reductions and higher prices for corporate power deals to fuel sustained growth after renewable tax credits are phased out.The largest offshore wind producer in the world broke into the U.S. onshore wind market with its acquisition of Chicago-based wind developer Lincoln Clean Energy LLC in October and announced on May 1 that it was buying a subsidiary of solar developer Coronal Energy, marking its first dip into photovoltaics and storage.“The U.S. solar market has significant potential,” Ørsted CEO and President Henrik Poulsen said on a call to discuss the company’s first-quarter earnings on May 1. “We believe the combination of onshore wind, solar PV and storage gives us a very strong platform for long-term growth in the U.S.”Poulsen said the acquisition includes Coronal’s development team and utility-scale solar and storage project pipeline. The company, headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., and backed by Japanese giant Panasonic Corp., has a multi-gigawatt-development pipeline in more than 20 states, according to its website.Ørsted expects its burgeoning U.S. onshore business to thrive despite the phaseout of renewable production tax credits, or PTCs, this year, as the subsidies will be offset by higher prices on corporate power purchase agreements, or PPAs, and continued cost declines, especially for onshore wind.“Beyond the PTC expiry, there is no doubt that the market will need to go for realignment,” Poulsen said. “Right now, corporate PPAs have been struck at prices that are very low and I’ll claim are very attractive to the corporations buying green power … because of the PTC support. I have no doubt that we’ll continue to be a strong market in the U.S., also beyond PTC,” he added.More ($): Ørsted sees bright prospects for U.S. expansion after end of renewable tax credits Ørsted CEO expects strong growth in U.S. renewable market to continue even without incentives
Lawmakers criticize U.K. Export Finance Agency for funding fossil fuel projects FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Reuters: Britain must stop financing fossil fuel projects abroad by 2021 as it undermines the nation’s efforts to combat climate change, a report by lawmakers said on Monday.The report, which targets financial support provided by the UK Export Finance (UKEF) agency, was published as Britain debates plans to set tougher climate goals and move toward a net zero emissions target by 2050.“The government claims that the UK is a world leader on tackling climate change,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the Environment Audit Committee, commenting on the report published by the committee. “But behind the scenes the UK’s export finance schemes are handing out billions of pounds of taxpayers money to develop fossil fuel projects in poorer countries,” she said.UKEF, which aims to help British businesses win contracts abroad, allocated 96% of its energy sector support, or 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion), to support fossil fuel projects in five years from April 2013, the report said.The committee said the support was incompatible with Britain’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and also carried risks for taxpayers.More: Britain must end financial help for fossil fuel projects abroad: lawmakers
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Bloomberg:It’s almost as if the last decade never happened for investors of Exxon Mobil Corp. shares.Once the gold-standard of Big Oil, the stock closed Monday at its lowest since October 2010, amid a slump in oil prices due to concerns about weak demand coupled with a glut. The S&P 500 also posted its worst one-day decline since October.But for Exxon, which dropped out of the index’s top 10 largest companies by market value for the first time last year, the malaise runs deeper than the state of the crude market.Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods is running a counter-cyclical strategy by investing heavily in new oil and gas assets, at a time when many investors are demanding energy companies improve returns for shareholders. Some shareholders are even demanding a plan to move away from fossil fuels altogether.Exxon is ramping up capital spending to more than $30 billion a year, without a hard ceiling, as it develops offshore oil in Guyana, liquefied natural gas in Mozambique, chemical facilities in China and the U.S. Gulf Coast, as well as a series of refinery upgrades. Woods is convinced the world will need oil and gas for the foreseeable future and sees an opportunity for expansion while competitors shy away from such long-term investments.The short-term cost of those investments is that Exxon can’t fund dividend payouts with cash generated from operations, instead resorting to asset sales and borrowing, according to Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. Exxon is the “clear outlier” among Big Oil companies on that front, she said. Exxon declined to comment.[Kevin Crowley]More: Exxon at a 10-year low shows challenges for oil’s biggest major ExxonMobil stock falls to lowest level since 2010
For years animal rights activist groups have targeted high profile outdoor brands in campaigns to halt inhumane practices used in the production of down and feathers for jackets and sleeping bags. But, according to research, such brands consume a tiny fraction of global down production, even at a time when down usage within the outdoor industry is at an all-time high, the European Outdoor Group (EOG) said in a study it released last week.The EOG, which represents 62 outdoor companies, including several U.S. brands, undertook the research to establish the type, quality and quantity of down used across the manufacture of outdoor products. The effort was supported by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which encouraged its members in the U.S. to contribute to the research.A total of 1,058 tons of down was measured and the association has estimated that this represents somewhere in the region of 65-to-75 percent of the down used by European/American outdoor brands – giving a projected outdoor market volume of between 1,410 and 1,630 tons of down annually. This is equates to less than one percent of the total global production of down, estimated to be at least 270,000 tons.Patagonia, The North Face and Allied Feather & Down have all responded to criticism of inhumane practices in the down supply chain over the past year, launching initiatives to trace their down supply all the way back to individual villages and hatcheries. Some have argued such initiatives are futile given the fractured nature of the supply chain — and the fact that the food and bedding industries have much more demand.EOG said the survey will be used to influence the impact that outdoor, bedding and other manufacturers may have on the environment, communities in the supply chain, and animal welfare.“It is common knowledge that over the last few years there has been a growing focus from NGOs, retailers and consumers on the ethical sourcing of down within our industry,” said Mark Held, general secretary of the EOG. “Meanwhile, numerous brands are working hard to ensure that their use of down meets high ethical and environmental standards. At the EOG, we have continued to maintain our approach of providing research support for our members and thereby facilitating both the debate and the move to best practice in terms of sourcing.“The fact that our industry’s volume of down use equates to less than one percent of total production suggests one reason why our leverage across the supply chain is limited and requires a combined effort,” said Mark Held, general secretary of the EOG. “We are confident that we are following the correct approach in trying to work together as an industry and promote best practices, while encouraging the wider down users and supply chain to get further engaged. This research is an important step in achieving our long term aim, which is to help find a way to achieve one single industry standard, that is held by an independent body, is cost effective, and acceptable to both businesses and NGOs.The data that has been collected will be used to inform the future direction of the association’s CSR/sustainability program. Full details of the down research results are only available to participants, but exceptions are possible in the case of companies that are prepared to actively support the general aim of an improved supply chain. For more information, visit www.europeanoutdoorgroup.com.
TraditionI’m a firm believer in tradition, particularly during the Holidays. For several years, I lived on the other side of the country, 2,000 miles away from my family. My Thanksgiving/Christmas tradition consisted of going for a long trail run in the morning, then eat a giant shrimp ring and drink martinis until the day faded to black.Traditions are important. But it’s also important that they evolve. We started a new Thanksgiving tradition this week that involved a massive family kickball tournament, unofficially sponsored by Yazoo Hefeweizen. My kids are 5—the perfect age to start developing wicked kickball skills. Their tiny little legs can’t get the ball over the bushes for a homerun, but they have a true passion for the sport. And talking trash, which is an often overlooked aspect of kickball.As for the beer—it was an out of left field choice at the beer store, but I’m convinced it was the perfect beer to get us through 12 hours of heavy eating and bloody kickball. Most people tend to opt for dark, malty beers during the Holidays (think imperial stouts, pumpkin porters and such), but you can only knock back one, maybe two of those rich beers before they start competing with the turkey and stuffing for space in your belly. And have you ever tried to steal third after downing an imperial bourbon stout?The Yazoo Hefe, on the other hand, is light and effervescent. It’s 5% ABV, tangy and a little bit fruity. It’s a marathon beer. You can pitch a full game of kickball with a bottle of this in your hand and still roll strikes. Then you can take that beer inside and sip it throughout a gravy-laden feast without missing a step. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a true Holiday Beer.Here’s to new traditions.And to the breweries out there, our family kickball team is currently looking for a title sponsor.
I first met Karen Chavez atop Wayah Bald on a frigid, snowy morning in 2001. She was a newspaper reporter covering the inaugural NOC Endurance Run and she had driven two hours up slick, steep, snow-covered roads to reach the finish line, where she spent several hours talking to me and other runners. She could have stayed home, called a few runners after the race, and cranked out a decent story. But she went the extra miles to be there in person, in sub-freezing temperatures, bundled up with her notepad and pen.That’s just how Karen rolls. For over 14 years, she has been writing about the outdoor scene by immersing herself in it. An avid and accomplished runner herself, she is beloved among the regional outdoor community for her tireless coverage in the Asheville Citizen-Times of important outdoor issues and inspiring people.Last fall, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the past year, she has endured multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. Amazingly, she continues to write.Next month, she is even planning a race: the Karen Kicks Cancer Resolution Run and Walk on January 1 in Asheville. Proceeds from the four-mile run and two-mile walk will benefit Hope Chest for Women. Karen also hopes the event will raise awareness about the importance of understanding breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer. Dense breasts can obscure mammograms and make cancer detection more difficult.Join her at the New Year’s Day run for a celebration of what she loves most: being outdoors, being active, and being alive.
Ten years is a milestone for any festival.This year, Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival – the annual musical gathering in Martinsville, Virginia, celebrates is 10th birthday with a rich and wildly eclectic line up of musicians, including JJ Grey & Mofro, The Wood Brothers, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Dustbowl Revival, The Mantras, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Jerry Douglas Band, and many, many more!At the heart of Rooster Walk is the wide range of bands and collaborative sets you can see over the festival’s four-day run. Two particular sets have caught our attention here at Trail Mix – King & Strings on Friday and The Last Yaltz on Sunday. The former has youthful guitar giants Billy Strings and Marcus King joining forces to create a display of guitar wizardry you will not likely find at any other festival this summer, while the latter has Yarn and a cadre of special guests paying tribute to The Band’s iconic work. Both appear to be can’t miss events for festival goers.Also featured at the festival will be an incredible selection of libations, food, and artisans from around the region.I recently caught up with Jeremy Darrow, a longtime friend of mine and bassist for bluegrass outfit (and RW10 performer) Front Country, to chat about playing Rooster Walk, must have gear for the festival circuit, and who you should definitely catch on stage when you head to RW10.BRO – Do you remember the first festival set you played with Front Country? How did it go?JD – My first festival set – and first ever gig – with Front Country was at the String Break Festival in Brooksville, Florida. I’m not sure how it would compare to how we sound now, but it was a lot of fun. I had just met most of the band at that time and we bonded over sets by Steep Canyon Rangers and Balsam Range.BRO – Afternoon set or late night set? What’s your druthers?JD – I generally prefer late night sets. But if the crowd is fired up in the middle of the day, it can be hard to tell the difference. It all comes down to getting the energy back that you’re putting out. It’s easy to stay stoked if the crowd is on its feet and dancing.BRO – Favorite festival memory as a fan?JD – I’ve got some great festival memories. One that has really been on my mind recently was seeing Levon Helm at Merlefest in 2008. He brought a vibe that you could feel everywhere all weekend. Everyone was happy and bringing their A-game to their own sets because he was around. His set was incredible, one of the most joyful performances I’ve ever experienced. That’s something you can’t fake. It takes the genuine article to radiate joy and love like that.BRO – One piece of gear that you can’t hit the festival circuit without?JD – I can’t get through festival season without sunglasses. I lost my favorite pair of many years two months ago and finally replaced them. Original Wayfarers all the way.BRO – Other than Front County, who is your can’t miss artist at Rooster Walk this week?JD – Of course, you can’t miss Front Country! We play Thursday night at 7:30 on the Pine Grove Stage. Also, don’t miss our buddies Fireside Collective. They’re a killer young band from Western North Carolina and they’re on fire. My buddy Jay Starling is an artist-at-large, too. Anything he’s getting into will be worth catching.Check out tracks from Front Country, Fireside Collective, and a whole bunch of other artists on our very own “BRO’s Ten Artists For Rooster Walk 10” playlist on Spotify! Take an early listen below so you can plan your weekend accordingly!For more information on the bands playing Rooster Walk, ticket purchasing, or the schedule, please bounce over to the festival’s website.Win a pair of Four-Day Passes To Rooster Walk!Want to snag a couple tickets to the festival? Take a crack at the trivia question below. One winner will be selected tomorrow, May 23, at noon. The question is…Artist-at-large Jay Starling is the son of a founding member of what legendary bluegrass band? By submitting your answer, you are not being added to any mailing list. Your information is kept private and never shared with anyone.
These days, the whole point of going out in the woods might be to get away from technology, but these apps will help you discover new places to go outside and play.Here in the Blue Ridge, we’re a hiking culture. Getting out in the woods for a hike or run isn’t just a workout, it’s a necessity. The hiking around here is second to none and there is just so much to explore that it would take multiple lifetimes to see it all. Whether you know these trails like the back of your hand, or have no idea where you are, these are the five best hiking apps to help you find new places and unforgettable experiences.From long-distance thru-hikes to short afternoon treks, if you can’t find a new hike near you with the apps below, then you probably shouldn’t be using a phone.AllTrailsiOS / Android / WebWith over 6.5M registered users, Alltrails is by far the most popular hiking app in the world. They make the discovery of new routes and planning your trip a breeze. In map view, you can browse an area, click on a pin, and learn more about the trail. Each trail features information like distance, elevation gain, photos, reviews, and more. You’ll know if you can bring Fido, how difficult the hike is, and if the trail is shared with horses and bikes.Pro OptionsAllTrails Pro takes hike planning and tracking to the next level. You can download routes, so when you’re exploring the backcountry and lose service (which is bound to happen), you can still make it home safely. They also feature real-time map overlays like weather, route planning, print maps, and more.If you want to upgrade to a Pro Account, they have several options available. You can upgrade to an annual plan for $29.99/year or buy a lifetime license for $99.99.Hiking ProjectiOS / Android / WebOne of six apps owned by REI, Hiking Project is a part of a family of outdoor apps that should be on everyone’s radar. Consisting of 38,865 trails (147,471 miles), Hiking Project is easy to use, informative, totally free, and free of ads.All of the information on hikes is user submitted, featuring trail overviews, up-to-date conditions, need-to-know information, and more. It’s really thorough, especially on the “Featured Hikes.” Each trail features the distance, ascent, descent, and elevations. Users can add photos and reviews as well, adding to the information on each trail. From the trail information page, you can get directions to the trailhead, share it with friends, and add it to your “to-do” list for hiking it later.Users record their own GPS Tracks for the community, literally mapping trails for others. Hiking Project is a great, and totally free hiking app for planning your next trip into the woods.ViewRangeriOS / Android / Kindle / WebI was really excited to try this one, particularly for the augmented reality functionality. Aptly named Skyline, users simply click on the Skyline Button from the interface, hold up their phone, and they can immediately see the names and distances of mountains, waterways, and landmarks around them. I tried it from our Asheville office’s window. It was cloudy, but I could still see the mountain peaks listed out on my screen.Though ViewRanger doesn’t feature as many trails as it’s bigger competitors above, they do have a wide range of trails I’ve never heard of with more detail. They have partnered with official mapping agencies in 23 countries to provide their users with quality and highly-detailed topographic maps. The route guides are all users submitted, whether by individuals, outdoor brands, the Parks Service, or tourism agencies. Turning on notifications allows ViewRanger to notify you when new routes are added to your area.In the app, you can plot a route with points to follow, add a point of interest to check out later, or turn on your Buddy Beacon, which allows you to see and share locations with friends. When out in the wilderness (where cell service doesn’t live), users can track their explorations offline and stay on route via GPS. On your hike, you can record your progress with metrics like time, distance, elevation, and speed.To download a route, however, you have to pay. Map and route packs vary from $8.99 t0 $54.99. You pay for credits, which allow you to download maps and routes for tracking and offline access.Photo: KomootKomootiOS / Android / WebThough Komoot is considered more of a route planning app, it’s a great tool to discover new hiking trails in your area. You choose an activity, whether hiking, biking, or running, and plan your route. With a focus on better, “more intuitive” navigation, users can keep their adventures on track with turn-by-turn navigation, even when offline in the wilderness.From the dashboard, you have three places to go: Collections, Highlights, and Tours. Collections are curated by the app’s team and feature collections of trails to explore in certain areas. Highlights feature recommended trails by the Kommot community. Tours are detailed breakdowns of routes by users featuring photos, notes, and more along the way.The amount of detail in their route planning is pretty stellar. Once you click on the “Plan” icon at the bottom of the screen, you select an activity, set an end destination, and the app plans the best route for you to get there. When finished, they show the distance, elevation, and estimated time to complete the route. When planning, you can pinch-to-zoom on your elevation profile and really get into the nitty-gritty details of your route.While hiking your route, the app will send you notifications just ahead of your turn, keeping you on track the entire time. That’s especially helpful when out in large forests with many unmarked trails. The app connects with your Garmin watch to sync routes and recordings, as well as the Health app on your Apple Watch. At the end of your adventure, Komoot automatically logs your route to relive and share with friends.To use turn-by-turn navigation, offline maps, and receive map updates, you must upgrade for $29.99. Pretty affordable for a world of hiking.Gaia GPSiOS / Android / WebI recently stumbled upon Gaia GPS and it’s a nifty little GPS app with a lot of features. In such a simple package, they have an overwhelmingly detailed mapping/navigation app. Hell, it even tells you where the closest parking lot is in downtown Asheville.Using the map, you can scroll around to find new parks, trails, and landmarks to explore. Clicking on a location gives you the option to learn more about it. They share the distance, elevation gain, and access information on each trail. The free version lets you download maps for an area to navigate and track progress offline.When the GPS is open, you see your current altitude, speed, direction, and of course, location. You can push record at any time to start tracking your trip, and there is a shortcut for snapping a quick photo along your route.To download premium offline maps, unlock universal sync, upgrade mapping tools, and share your progress, you will need to subscribe to Gaia GPS for $19.99 a year.If you’re looking to find new places to explore, you can download the National Geographic maps, US Hunting Maps, and IGN maps for $39.99 a year.I frequently catch myself just browsing through these apps, even when I’m not planning a hike. Just discovering new places to go is fun in itself.See you on the trails.Justin Forrest is an outdoor writer, fly fishing addict and web designer based in Asheville, N.C. He posts pictures of cats and fishing on Instagram sometimes.
LouAnn Watkins just wants drinking water without cancer-causing toxins. A 2016 test of her home’s well water found levels of a potent carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, more than four times the level that had recently prompted “do not drink” warnings from the state.The culprit? Watkins and other residents suspect the network of ash ponds at Duke’s Rogers Energy Complex in Mooresboro, N.C. State law only requires utilities to provide clean water to residents living within a half-mile of such ponds, a limit that geologists say has no scientific basis. Watkins lived just a few hundred yards beyond that limit.She worries about the long-term health impacts of this water on her and the five-year-old niece and twin grandchildren she has helped raise. Partly because of this concern, she abandoned her since-repossessed manufactured home to move across the road into her mother’s house.A test of LouAnn Watkins’ well water found levels of a potent cancer-causing agent more than four times the level that had recently prompted “do not drink” warnings from the state.LouAnn Watkins, a 45-year-old nursing assistant (right), moved from her home near the Rogers Energy Complex in Mooresboro, N.C., after high levels of a potent, cancer-causing form or chromium was found in her well water. She now lives with her mother, Myrtle Watkins, 72, (left) and niece, Gabriella Dawkins, 5, in a nearby home where the drinking water has never been tested.She watched as the new, Duke-financed county water line came to an abrupt stop at a bridge running over a creek next to her old lot. She knows this means she can’t get a decent price for the property, which has been in her family for decades, or even pass it on to relatives.“Nobody could ever stay there with the water that bad,” she said.All the while, she has not received so much as bottle of water from Duke.“I haven’t been compensated for one thing,” Watkins, 45, said, looking at her vacant lot from her mother’s porch. “They don’t care anything about us on this side of the bridge.”Citizens across the South fear that coal ash poisons the water they drink and swim in and the fish they catch. It’s been one of the region’s biggest environmental stories since a collapsed pipe poured thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River from a pond at a Duke plant in Eden, N.C. in 2014.Utilities say it is an old story about a threat that is already being addressed. Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert, for example, said recently that in spending billions of dollars to clean up or cap old pits, the utility is on “common ground” with environmentalists. The company is complying with a state law that requires it to provide its plants’ neighbors with clean drinking water. It is converting or replacing many of its old pits so they burn natural gas, part of an industry-wide shift that will greatly reduce the estimated 130 million tons of coal ash that utilities create annually. And by the end of the year, she said, all of the ash Duke produces in North Carolina will be either recycled or stored in dry, lined landfills.But environmentalists say this problem is far from solved.Thousands of residents, like Watkins, still live with unsafe drinking water. The fix the company plans at six of its sites, called cap-in-place, involves covering ponds with plastic sheeting, but leaving the ash, meaning toxins continue to seep into groundwater. According to data from Duke Energy, groundwater near ponds is fouled with high levels of arsenic, lead, boron, selenium and other contaminants, including radium at concentrations 38 times safe drinking standards at the Duke plant in Asheville.Instead of protecting residents from these toxins, however, the EPA has been busy rolling back hard-won federal regulations. One of the first actions of Scott Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has been gutting most of Obama’s coal ash rule. The next phase may include ending the requirement to disclose the results of groundwater testing, which “has been such a crucial step in allowing the public and advocates to understand the full scope of the problem,” said Amy Adams, the North Carolina program director for Appalachian Voices.The EPA is also handing over regulation of coal ash to states, which means the complex, politically fraught job of regulating coal ash will be left to underfunded state environmental agencies and, ultimately, lawmakers who have proven unable to stand up to corporate powerhouses such as Duke, says Frank Holleman, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.“The EPA is trying to give these [state] agencies the discretion to let the utilities off the hook.”What Exactly Is Coal Ash?Though Duke has sought rate increases to make customers pay for cleaning up ash pits, utilities are clearly to blame for the contamination, Holleman said.“The utilities voluntarily created an unsafe and irresponsible situation merely for convenience and some marginal cost savings,” he said.Burning coal distills heavy metals and other non-combustible poisons in the ash. For decades, utilities have mixed this residue into a slurry and pumped it into unlined ponds. Because the plants need large sources of water, these pits are often separated from rivers only by aging, earthen dams. Some of the pits are below the water table, leaking directly into the aquifer. And as modern power plants extract more chemicals such as mercury from their emissions, more of it ends up in coal ash.“We use 21st-century technology to take toxic substances out of the air, but 19th-century technology to transmit them in concentrated form into water systems,” says Holleman.The influence of regional utilities, especially Duke and Dominion, can be easily traced in public records and media reports. On the federal level, Duke spent a total of $1.5 million in political donations and $6.4 million on lobbying during the 2016 election cycle, while Dominion spent $1.2 million in contributions and $2.8 million on lobbyists, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Duke CEO Lynn Good both met with and called the EPA’s Pruitt before he announced plans to relax the regulation of coal ash.Influence is just as obvious in the weak state controls on utilities, critics say. In 2016, Duke mobilized lobbyists to undermine state coal ash rules. The result was a new coal ash law that would allow some of the coal ash ponds to be capped in place, or, as French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson describes this process, “pushing the coal ash around a little bit and putting a tarp over it.”Is our water safe to drink?For citizens across the Southeast, there is one central question: Is our water safe to drink and, if not, is Duke to blame?Duke’s previous reports to the state showed levels of “arsenic at over 468 times the state’s public health safety standard, vanadium at 690 times the standard, chromium at 83 times the standard … and cobalt at 119 times the standard” for safe drinking water near its Mooresboro power plant.Chemical markings from toxins found in samples taken from groundwater sources near the power plant clearly shows their source is coal ash, says Albert Rubin, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University and a member of the state’s Environmental Management Commission.“We can assert that the radium [in the groundwater] is not naturally occurring and is related to the leaking of coal ash.”That groundwater flows into the Broad River, a popular destination for fishing and kayaking and a source of drinking water for several downstream cities and counties.Duke does not plan to remove or clean up the coal ash ponds in Mooresboro, but will only cap in place. A geologist hired by SELC to examine the effectiveness of cap-in-place at another Duke plant, predicted that dangerous levels of contaminants would continue to seep from the site for more than a century after capping.“It’s like putting a lid on a leaky pot,” said Roger Hollis, 69, a nearby resident who has helped organize residents’ response to the contamination. “The pot is still going to leak.”Hollis acknowledges Duke has responded to residents who live within a half-mile of the plant not only with water lines but with a “goodwill” payment of $5,000 and a stipend to cover their water bills.But this has done nothing for residents such as he and Watkins, who live outside of this small, arbitrary half-mile boundary. And the company hasn’t adequately addressed the future threat of spreading pollution or accounted for the long-term health impacts on residents, some of whom may have been drinking contaminated water for decades.Hollis thinks he knows the reason for this indifference. “The people affected—who are largely rural—don’t have the resources or the interest in fighting Duke.”Laramie Short, 53, a former maintenance worker, acknowledges that he fits this description.He joined Hollis on a drive to a campground along the Broad River, cases of bottled water piled beside each cabin and camper. He peered at the distant outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the looming presence of the plant’s stack.He has lived here since he was seven years old, he said, in a house he now shares with his 88-year-old mother. A black German shepherd was chained to a stake in his front yard. Smoke billowed from a wood stove that is his primary source of heat.He lives close enough to the plant that he can hook into the new water line, but he worries about all those years of breathing air that was once so smoky it blackened clothes hung out on the line and of drinking water so close to the leaking ash pits.The files that Hollis keeps in a big cardboard box at his house show that in 2016 a test revealed Short’s water contained levels of total chromium far above the state threshold for safe drinking water.“I don’t know about that,” Short said. “All I know is, it’s bad.”Who really cares about coal ash?The Southeast, with a long history of dependence on coal as an energy source, has the highest concentration of coal ash dump sites in the nation. Residents throughout the Southeast are more likely than other residents of the United States to live near aging, unlined coal ash ponds. That means their wells are more vulnerable to the long-term threat of poisons such as lead, arsenic, and radium that leach from these pits and into groundwater. They are also more likely to encounter these toxins in rivers, which are often protected from ash ponds only by leaky earthen dams. And they could be exposed to the increased incidence of cancer that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has found in communities near ash ponds.GEORGIAThe state is home to 11 coal-fired power plants which store a combined 86 million tons of ash. Utilities plan to cap about 90 percent of this ash in place, which allows toxins to seep into the groundwater. Georgia ranks eighth among states for producing new coal ash, an estimated 6.1 million tons per year.VIRGINIAThere are coal-fired plants and 32 coal ash impoundments in Virginia. Eight of these ponds have been classified by the EPA as a “significant hazard.”SOUTH CAROLINAThe state is home to 12 coal-fired power plants and a total of 50 coal ash impoundments. The state’s three largest utilities, responding to lawsuits and public pressure, have agreed to remove all coal ash from unlined pits.TENNESSEEThe Kingston spill, which dumped more than a billion gallons of ash sludge into the Emory River, was the largest industrial spill in the history of the United States. Tennessee is home to eight coal-fired plants and 44 ash ponds. If TVA has its way, 13.4 million tons of toxic coal ash will be capped in place.NORTH CAROLINADuke has 32 ponds at 14 plants in the state and ranks ninth in annual production of coal ash. Though Duke said the amount of ash generated is falling because of plants’ conversion to natural gas, the utility has resisted calls to excavate all of its coal ash and store it in lined landfills, and plans cap-in-place fixes at six of its plants.Find more state-by-state info on ash contamination at Southeastcoalash.org.