When politicians and businesses want to avoid some environmental regulation, they often cite “inconclusive data” or “inconclusive evidence” as the reason to hold off on any oversight. It’s what Republicans routinely say about climate change, even though the data is, in fact, conclusive. And it’s what they said about the coal ash ponds that are now in the news.

Long before the spill, the ponds were causing problems. Under Democrats, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was starting to take notice, particularly after a spill in Tennessee in 2008. The Democratic controlled legislature began passing oversight procedures for the dams that contained the coal ash.

Unfortunately, the GOP take over of government ended the trend. When ground water was found to be contaminated near coal ash ponds, Duke said that the contamination might have come from elsewhere. Instead, of pushing back, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, basically said, “Ok. Well, pay us $100,000, figure out what to do about it and we’ll leave you alone.” Sounds a lot more like a wink and a nod than a resolution to the problem.

When the spill happened, Pat McCrory, DENR Secretary John Skvarla and the legislative leadership should have been out in force. Instead, McCrory has been a bit wish-washy, Skvarla has been outraged that anyone would even consider that DENR hadn’t done its job or that Duke might have to pay to move the ponds and House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger have been absent.

There is no doubt that the coal ash ponds are polluting our state. There is, however, inconclusive evidence that our current government is willing to protect our citizens from the pollution of the nation’s largest utility.

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