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McCrory criticizes attorney general for comments on coal ash cleanup

Gov. Pat McCrory criticized Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office on Wednesday, suggesting Cooper was politicizing the cleanup of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill on the Dan River last month.

McCrory has given Duke until Saturday to supply options, costs and other details for dealing with its ash ponds. Last month a collapsed culvert spilled up to 39,000 tons of coal ash sludge across some 70 miles of river bottom.

Reporters asked the governor about the Duke situation after he finished speaking Wednesday morning at an economic forum at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harris Campus.

Duke CEO Lynn Good last week said the company will pay to clean up the spill, but said Duke expects customers to underwrite the expense of closing ash ponds at 14 sites.

Cooper, a potential 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has said he will fight the utility if it tries to charge customers for the expense.

McCrory said the attorney general’s office shouldn’t comment on the situation while authorities are still trying to get to the bottom of what happened.

McCrory, a former Duke employee, said he would let the N.C. Utilities Commission decide financial matters on the cleanup. The governor appoints the members of the commission.

“You make decisions based on data and research, not based on politics,” he said. “What we don’t need to do is have every politician get in the details of that, because they are not themselves going through the complex study that this engineering and environmental issue deserves.”

Asked if that was a reference to Cooper, McCrory replied: “I frankly think it’s inappropriate for that office to comment on this because they are involved in the process both past, present and future.”

The attorney general’s office, which has appealed three recent rate hikes by Duke, defended its right to speak out.

“As he’s done in the past, Attorney General Cooper intends to fight for consumers as state law gives him the authority to do with utility rate hikes,” spokeswoman Noelle Talley said in an email.

McCrory said he expects that, in resolving the coal ash issues, state officials will follow processes similar to those in South Carolina, where the Santee Cooper utility ultimately agreed to spend $250 million to clean ash out of its seven ponds.

Asked what he expected to get from Duke by the Saturday deadline, the governor replied: “We expect a strategic plan on how to handle a very complex situation that needs a remedy – both short term and long term.”

Records from the Utilities Commission have been subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury investigation prompted by the Dan River ash spill.

The subpoena, issued last month, asks for records related to ash-pond dam inspections formerly reported to the commission. It also seeks documents on illicit seeps and discharges from those dikes.

The grand jury will meet in Raleigh for three days next week.

Subpoenas have also gone to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to 18 current or former water-quality officials, and to Duke.

A subpoena to DENR initially sought records for Duke’s Dan River plant, where the spill occurred Feb. 2, as part of a grand jury investigation of a “suspected felony.” A second round of subpoenas went to 18 current and former water-quality officials within the agency.

Duke acknowledged also getting two subpoenas in February but would not discuss them further.

Staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; @Ericfraz on Twitter
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