After polling North Carolina voters for three days, the Sierra Club and Hart Research Associates concluded that residents lack confidence in their state leaders after Duke Energy’s coal ash spill in February.

Nearly three-quarters of voters say the incident makes them want stronger regulations and enforcement from future candidates, and the results show no difference along partisan lines.

The majority of North Carolina voters would support a candidate who “favors strong regulations and enforcement...to prevent future spills," as a result of the Duke Energy coal ash spill. Photo credit: Donna Lisenby
The majority of North Carolina voters would support a candidate who “favors strong regulations and enforcement…to prevent future spills,” as a result of the Duke Energy coal ash spill. Photo credit: Donna Lisenby

As Hart began conducting the survey on March 10, the Waterkeeper Alliance flew over the Duke Energy Cape Fear Plant, snapping photos of workers pumping wastewater from the company’s coal ash pond into a canal that drains into the Cape Fear River. Since the Cape Fear River provides drinking water for residents in Fayetteville, Sanford and several other communities, one can only imagine how much higher the figures would be if the survey was conducted today.

On March 10, Waterkeeper Alliance conducted an airplane flyover of the ash impoundments at the Duke Energy Cape Fear Plant. Photographs show Duke personnel using a portable water pump to empty its 1985 coal ash pond. The plant's Clean Water Act permit only authorizes discharges when the pond level overtops the vertical discharge pipe visible in the photo, in order to reduce discharges of toxic solids in the effluent. Photo credit Waterkeeper Alliance
On March 10, Waterkeeper Alliance conducted an airplane flyover of the ash impoundments at the Duke Energy Cape Fear Plant. Photographs show Duke personnel using a portable water pump to empty its 1985 coal ash pond. The plant’s Clean Water Act permit only authorizes discharges when the pond level overtops the vertical discharge pipe visible in the photo, in order to reduce discharges of toxic solids in the effluent. Photo credit Waterkeeper Alliance

“This North Carolina coal spill has been a wake up call for voters about the need to protect our water from toxic coal pollution,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This poll is yet another indication that Republicans, Democrats and Independents in coal-dependent states want leaders who will stand up to big coal companies and enact common-sense initiatives to protect our air, our water and our families from toxic coal ash and pollution.” 

Even though 70 percent of respondents say that Duke Energy is “mostly” to blame for the spill and 90 percent say the company should clean up all coal ash sites in the state, it’s clear they think more emphasis on the environment from politicians would help. Here are some other highlights from the survey’s results:

  • 70 percent of voters polled say they would be more likely to support a candidate who “ favors strong regulations and enforcement … to prevent future spills.” These include the majority of Democrats (87 percent), independents (69 percent) and Republicans (55 percent). Only 17 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who says that having more regulations and enforcement will hurt jobs and the state’s economy.

  •  Coal ash regulation proposals garnered strong support from all parties— at least 60 percent of voters strongly supporting each of three initiatives.

  • 57 percent of those polled say “stronger regulation and enforcement” could have prevented the spill; 69 percent say other serious incidents like this will occur unless some action is taken.

  • 83 percent of North Carolina voters polled want coal ash to be regulated as a hazardous substance

“North Carolinians are sick of paying the cost for Duke Energy’s failures and the Dan River spill is the last straw,” said Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in North Carolina.

“Clear majorities across the aisle want policy and politicians who will hold Duke accountable and act to protect our water and  prevent another coal ash spill.” 

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