Editorial: Cooper must make safe water top priority

Posted July 18, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated July 18, 2017 5:38 a.m. EDT

Residents near coal ash ponds demand water safety information

A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, July 18, 2017; Editorial # 8187
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Gov. Roy Cooper didn’t inherit a very high standard from former Gov. Pat McCrory when it comes to dealing with citizens about possible threats to their health – like a dangerous level of cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water of homeowners with wells near coal ash dumps.

McCrory’s coal ash legacy wasn’t pretty. The infighting over well-water standards blew up in embarrassing fashion, with political appointees bickering and intimidating scientists because they didn’t like their conclusions, and state scientists resigning in protest.

While the Cooper administration may have cleared that pathetic standard so far, it recently fell short of what the public deserves when rolling out health and safety standards for private wells near coal ash ponds.

No sooner did the state Department of Environmental Quality announce its performance standards for well water filtration systems than word emerged last week that scientists at the state Department of Health and Human Services had told them the standard for hexavalent chromium was "not health protective."

Haven’t we seen this bad movie before? This latest difference of opinion is being portrayed as an honest disagreement.

Still, if the goal was to: 1. Make sure that people weren’t drinking water that would make them sick and; 2. Be sure citizens had confidence in that assessment – state officials missed their mark.

There is hope. Rather than follow the lead of his predecessors and seek to bully other bureaucrats, the news media and the public into submission, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan announced that a state advisory board would provide “science-based” guidance to be used in addressing the standard for chromium in ground water. That panel will provide advice to the state Environmental Management Commission, which can set any revised standards.

Regan had directed the advisory board to review scientific and health data as well as conduct public forums to address the issues and hear concerns of the public. The goal is to have consensus around a standard by the end of the year.

Even amid the General Assembly’s efforts to shrink and minimize the regulatory authority of state agencies, it remains a basic function of government to assure the safety of its citizens – in this case that the water they drink won’t kill them. The Cooper administration needs to remain vigilant and be sure the advisory board fulfills its mandate.

Regan and Secretary Mandy Cohen, his counterpart in the Department of Health and Human Services, need to work together, openly, so citizens are assured the rules and regulations are established in an open and transparent matter.

Further, the first priority is public safety not the political posture of any public officials or the financial interests of powerful companies.

The problems left with the inadequate and inappropriate storage of coal ash aren’t merely a punching bag for politicians to spar with during a campaign.

The campaign is done. Citizens deserve to know their government sets their health and safety as the top priority.

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR