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Environmentalists Say EPA's New Coal Ash Rules Fall Short

New federal rules are out governing disposal of coal ash, but environmentalists aren’t too happy.  They’ve been calling for stricter controls for years on the ash, which is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity. The government acted after a series of spills: Six years ago, there was a massive spill of coal ash sludge in Tennessee. Three years later, tons of coal ash swept into Lake Michigan. Last February, another spill and gray sludge spewed into North Carolina’s Dan River. Environmentalists wanted coal ash to be treated as hazardous waste.

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first standards for the coal-burning waste, saying it can be treated like regular garbage. That means regulating the stuff will be left up to states and watchful citizens.  The coal industry supported the less strict classification, arguing that the ash wasn't dangerous. In North Carolina, Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins issued a statement saying the new EPA rules fall short of protecting people and water.

“While the EPA is finally establishing a floor in terms of minimum federal coal ash regulations, the floor is much too low and has too many holes,” Perkins said. “The rule leaves too much oversight to the utilities and the state, which for decades have demonstrated that with the onus on them, they cannot and will not do enough.”

SC SCHOOLS WELCOME A BREAK - FROM THE FLU

School systems across South Carolina say they are happy for the Christmas break, and not just for the time off.  It may help stop a major flu outbreak. Before the break began on Friday, several school districts warned parents of a high number of absences because of the flu. The peak of flu season is usually in January or February, but the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said the flu is currently widespread across South Carolina.  Doctors hope the break for Christmas allows the flu's spread to slow down.

MAN FOUND DEAD IN MORGANTON

Investigators say a 74-year-old man was found buried in a shallow grave in his own backyard in Morganton this week. John Bailey's sister-in-law, Glenda Clark, said she went to check on Bailey Thursday night and saw blood. They called police, who followed a trail of blood to a fleshly dug patch of earth in his yard where Bailey's body was buried. Investigators aren't saying much about the case, but say they have officers working around the clock to find Bailey's killer. Clark says she worried her brother-in-law suffered before he died. She says the person who killed him deserves the death penalty. 

NC ENDS USE OF GAS FOR ANIMAL EUTHANASIA

North Carolina will officially ban the use of gas to euthanize animals early next year, although most if not all shelters have given up the practice already.  The state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services in early December advised shelters to stop using gas chambers as of February 15th.  Animal welfare director Patricia Norris says most, if not all, shelters have already moved entirely to lethal injection because of changes in guidance from veterinary groups.  In 2013, shelters took in more than 284,000 dogs and cats, of which more than 159,000 - 56 percent - were euthanized.

TRACK REPAIRS AFFECT TRAFFIC

Trains are a rare sight along the tracks from north Charlotte to Mooresville, which track owner Norfolk Southern refers to as the “O Line.” But lately there’s been a lot of activity, as the railroad company carries out its first major track repair since 1992. Our news partner CorneliusNews.net reports  that rail crossings have been closed off-and-on over the past two weeks in Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville, as crews repair crossings and replace railroad ties and stone ballast along the tracks.  A Norfolk Southern spokesman said the line carries little traffic, but said the company wants to keep the line in good shape in anticipation of increased business. One thing the line won’t be used for any time soon is commuter rail. The company has called passenger rail “fundamentally incompatible” with its freight business.

PANTHERS NEED A WIN

It’s a big day for the Carolina Panthers. They’re at home today, facing the Cleveland Browns, with a 1 o’clock kickoff at Bank of America Stadium. A win would keep alive the Panthers’ hopes of making the playoffs. Fans also will be watching today’s New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons game, where a Saints loss would also help the Panthers.

It’ll be the Browns’ rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel against Carolina’s Cam Newton, who is listed as the probable starter. He missed last week after he suffered a minor back injury in an auto accident near the stadium. Two weeks ago at New Orleans, Newton had his best game of the season, throwing three touchdowns and rushing for 83 yards and one touchdown himself.  The Panthers will be without running back DeAngelo Williams, who will be out for a third game with a broken bone in his hand.