A state toxicologist accusing the state health director of putting politics over public safety. A late-night press conference in which Governor McCrory’s chief of staff accuses the toxicologist of perjury. An “open editorial” in which that state health director sounds a lot like a McCrory campaign staffer. The resignation of the state’s epidemiologist because of that op-ed.
All of this has happened within the last few weeks. To help you keep track of the state’s fast-moving and always-confusing coal ash debacle, we’ve created a timeline. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
February 2, 2014: Duke Energy employees realize that coal ash is spilling from a coal ash pond into the Dan River near Eden. The spill contaminates seventy miles of the Dan with thirty-nine thousand tons of toxic coal ash.
August 20, 2014: The legislature passes a bill creating a Coal Ash Management Commission with oversight over the closing of Duke’s thirty-three coal ash ponds. Governor McCrory vetoes the bill on the grounds that it intrudes on his authority; his veto is overridden. McCrory takes the legislature to court.
March 2015: Tom Reeder, the assistant secretary of what is now the Department of Environmental Quality, tries to change the language in a do-not-drink order to stress that the levels of toxins in the water do not exceed federal drinking-water standards. Also: the DEQ fines Duke Energy $25 million for the Dan River spill.
April 2015: Regulators send nearly four hundred do-not-drink letters to families living near Duke’s coal-powered plants. The letter says that the wells meet federal standards, but don’t mention that there are no federal standards for hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen associated with coal ash. State toxicologist Kenneth Rudo later describes the wording as, “Don’t drink the water, but we are overreacting.”
July 2015: Randall Williams, the new state health director, meets with Republican legislative staffers, who express concern that the DHHS “alarmed people disproportionate to the risk.”
January 30, 2016: The N.C. Supreme Court rules against the legislature in McCrory’s lawsuit.
February 9, 2016: After negotiating privately with Duke, the DEQ reduces Duke’s $25 million fine to $6.6 million. Duke appeals.
March 2016: Williams and Reeder rescind the do-not-drink order.
May 4, 2016: State epidemiologist Megan Davies gives sworn testimony saying she opposed the withdrawal of the do-not-drink order.
June 6, 2016: McCrory vetoes a second Coal Ash Management Commission bill. Although he says he expects the legislature to override the veto, lawmakers never do.
July 11, 2016: Rudo gives a 220-page deposition for a lawsuit filed against Duke by several environmental groups. In the deposition, he says state officials “knowingly told people that their water was safe when we knew it wasn’t.”
August 2, 2016: The Associated Press releases a copy of Rudo’s deposition. That evening, McCrory’s chief of staff, Thomas Stith, calls a late-night press conference in which he accuses Rudo of lying under oath.
August 9, 2016: Williams and Reeder pen an “open editorial” in which they call Rudo’s work “unprofessional” and “inconsistent”; they also blame “special interest groups” and lament “inaccurate and unfair” media coverage of Rudo’s testimony.
August 10, 2016: Davies resigns, saying she “cannot work for a department and an administration that deliberately misleads the public.”
August 16, 2016: Erin Brockovich and the Environmental Working Group, a D.C.-based nonprofit, send a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy calling for the establishment of federal standards for hexavalent chromium in drinking water, citing the coal ash fiasco in North Carolina.