The Old Paths: Coal ash issues….again

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

Last week some extraordinary things happened. My baby girl turned 18, much of the church world commemorated the 110th anniversary of the historic Azusa Street revival in California, Major League Baseball celebrated its Opening Day.

And an advisory committee from the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) came to Walnut Cove on April 7. Yes, three people who were directly appointed by the President of these United States traveled to Stokes County to listen to what residents and experts had to say about the coal ash issues so widely publicized recently.

We were one of only three places in the entire nation chosen for such a visit—the other two being in Alabama and Illinois where residents have similar issues with coal ash. The USCCR committees that went to all three places will soon convene to discuss what they learned and eventually present their findings to Congress and the President.

Other prominent leaders also sat in the Walnut Cove Public Library for that event last Thursday, including Tom Reeder, Assistant Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). I supremely felt the honor of these people coming to our little town to hear us out. It was a really big deal.

So if the Federal government is this concerned about what is going on with the coal ash ponds near the Belews Creek Steam Station, I have one big question: Why weren’t any county officials present at this all-day conference in Walnut Cove? News cameras were rolling, local newspaper reporters were on hand and the place was packed with both local folks and many who came from out of town due to the prominence of this issue. My son Elijah and I, who had been asked to address the Committee, were even interviewed by the Associated Press who thought this event important enough to cover.

But unless I am mistaken, no local elected officials or county employees who should be concerned about this issue were there. (I will apologize ahead of time if any of them were there even for a short time and went unseen by me. A local newspaper also reported that not a single Stokes County elected official was present.)

I understand that some of our elected officials still hold public jobs and could not attend for that reason. But what about the others? Perhaps they had very important prior commitments, which I understand as well. But I also noticed that when the State of North Carolina sent high-ranking officials from the DEQ to Danbury on March 24 for a public hearing on the coal ash problem in Stokes County, no county leaders were there except for Commissioner Jimmy Walker.

I all too well understand that Duke Energy is a big taxpayer in our county. Years ago, when I was still editor of The Stokes News, I wrote a column about the pollution from the steam station and was “jokingly” scolded by some county leaders. I was told that perhaps I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds this county.

Well, I, too, am a taxpayer in this county, although my contributions are paltry compared to Duke Energy. But should that matter? IF my family was affected by the coal ash issue, should I hush up just because we appreciate the money that comes to Stokes from the steam station?

People matter. Their concerns should be deemed important enough to be heard by elected officials. I so much appreciate the DEQ folks coming to Danbury in March and the USCCR committee visiting us last week.

This is not a partisan issue; it is a people issue. That has been overlooked by some key leaders in our state.

In January of this year, when a group concerned with the coal ash issue asked Gov. McCrory to meet with them, they were told by his office that the NC Republican party would issue a statement. And so they did.

“This group, which is nothing but an extension of the Democrat Party, is pushing false attacks in order to distract voters,” said NCGOP Press Secretary Kara Carter.

Uh, Ms. Carter, I beg to differ. Since it is a matter of public record, I will go ahead and admit that I am a Republican, and a very conservative one at that. In fact, many of the people in my old neighborhood who live near the coal ash ponds and are speaking up to raise concerns are also Republicans. So I believe your statement was very misleading.

The toxins in coal ash don’t just target Democrats who drink the polluted water or breathe whatever is left in the air after the scrubbers do their work. I repeat, this is a people issue; forget the politics of it all.

Despite my statements above, I am not feeling wrathful toward anyone. My son asked me after the USCCR conference last week, “Mom, why do people think that yelling angrily at the Duke Energy or DEQ people will accomplish anything? It works the opposite effect.” Out of the mouths of babes…..

When I was asked to open up the March 24 pre-DEQ public hearing prayer vigil with prayer and welcoming comments, I said that we must guard against anger that could lead to a root of bitterness. Bitterness alone will make a person as sick as coal ash could. My belief is that even if you believe Duke Energy’s high-ranking officials (not my many friends and relatives who simply work for Duke Energy) or the lawmakers down in Raleigh are your enemies, you would get more results by doing what Jesus said to do: love them, pray for them and bless them.

Does that mean we have to overlook any wrongdoing they may be guilty of? No. Does that mean we need to just hush up and let them do whatever they want? Of course not. But as a dear friend told me recently, God will work His justice, but He’s not gonna do it by hate.

This issue can be worked out to the satisfaction of all. It will take great cooperation, however, between parties that may not be ideologically on the same page, which means love and peace must reign somehow. It IS possible. I refuse to believe anything else.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

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