This letter appeared April 30, 2014 in the Warren Record.

To the editor:
Duke Energy has set the precedent for using the Roanoke River Basin to dewater industrial waste facilities. We must negate this precedent by insisting that, to the extent possible, the entire basin be returned to the environmental quality it had before the coal ash contamination, including surface waters and contaminated bottom coal ash sediment.

We must take an uncompromising stand because our unalienable rights are being tested. Duke Energy now occupies the basin and controls its destiny. To control the destiny of the basin is to control the destiny of the region. The two are inseparable. The occupation tilts the direction of this region from an approximation of democracy to an outright corporate plutocracy.

To return the basin to its pre-coal ash contaminant status and then rid Duke Energy’s polluting presence from the basin is to emancipate the basin and ourselves. The reversal will put our destiny and the destiny of the basin where it belongs: in our collective will expressed through our public sentiments. We have been assaulted and dumped on before. Together we reversed the perception from negative to positive and transformed environmentalism in the process. So, we can also reverse Duke Energy’s transformation of our region from a free democracy to a corporate plutocracy.

The restoration of the basin to its pre-coal ash status is needed especially because of the serious health hazards the contaminants pose and the many discrepancies among federal agency regulations concerning allegedly safe maximum contaminant levels (Health Physics Society).

So-called safe maximum contaminant levels are arbitrary and are based on potential risks as well as costs to polluters. What’s more, using the same data, the risk assessment community often can’t agree on safe maximum contaminant levels (Health Physics Society). Finally, without independent sampling, testing, and independent labs, we cannot possibly trust the data and conclusions of Duke Energy, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency which have abused the public trust. They have taken the basin by willful neglect and have prevented all legal means of trying to stop the contamination and to clean it up.

Duke Energy has no right to determine our destiny without our consent by back-door strategies, nor by any other means, nor for any purpose, including industrial development and the needed use of the Roanoke River Basin to dewater coal ash pits or later the tailings facilities if Virginia were to mine uranium. (Commonwealth of Virginia Working Group Report, November 30, 2012, page 34: Print). We have the responsibility not to let them.

Corporations and governments do not have the right to determine the destiny of citizens and sovereign states without their consent. To do so would be to destroy the principles of self-government, freedom, and equality.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us” and that “nothing . . . is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.”

For us, the battleground for those rights is here. But it will take all of us together, all across the political spectrum and all across this nation, standing on the core values, the eternal principles of our founding documents-the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States-to convince Duke Energy, DENR and the EPA that our collective will expressed through our public sentiments is still the cornerstone of democracy and that the destiny of the Roanoke River Basin rests ultimately on us, not on the will of a state-backed corporate plutocracy.