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McCrory’s coal ash bill filed in Senate

Gov. Pat McCrory’s fix for coal ash contamination became the first bill introduced in the state Senate as legislators began their session on Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Hendersonville Republican who chairs the Rules Committee, and Senate leader Phil Berger filed the bill. Berger lives in Eden, where Duke Energy spilled up to 39,000 tons of ash on Feb. 2.

“Addressing the environmental concerns presented by coal ash ponds remains one of the Senate’s top priorities for this short session,” they said in a statement. “It’s important to get this conversation started right away, and Gov. McCrory’s proposal to handle the Dan River coal ash spill and other coal ash ponds is a good starting point.”

Apodaca, who as rules chairman directs the flow of legislation in the Senate, said the bill will receive a committee hearing soon.

McCrory rolled out his ash proposal last month, irking legislators who said they’d received little advance notice.

Key legislators have said McCrory’s bill is likely to be enhanced, such as by setting deadlines for Duke to close its 33 ash ponds across the state.

McCrory proposed site-specific closure methods rather than across-the-board removal of ash. Ash could be removed from some ponds but left in place, capped, at others.

Because Duke has proposed similar measures, environmental advocates criticized the governor’s solution as giving Duke what it wants.

“This bill is a rehashing of the discredited sweetheart deal Duke Energy struck with the state last year and only requires what Duke Energy has already conceded in public statements,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

McCrory, appearing in Charlotte last week, said the legislation presented a “sound plan” for dealing with ash.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if other states start copying the plan, because there really is no national plan on how to deal with coal ash,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency will roll out the first federal rules on ash in December.

McCrory’s plan requires Duke to file ash pond closure plans within 60 to 90 days of the legislation’s passage for four plants – Riverbend west of Charlotte, the Dan River plant that spilled ash, Sutton in Wilmington and Asheville.

It doesn’t set a timeline for action on other ponds.

Duke has already said it will remove ash from Riverbend’s two ponds and from those at Dan River. It will continue removing ash from the Asheville plant and accelerate closing the ponds at its Sutton plant in Wilmington.

The bill would also remove a provision in 2009 legislation that allowed Duke to keep secret some records about its ash dams, including emergency-action plans.

It also adds 19 staff positions to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which polices ash.

It would also shorten the time in which Duke would have to notify the public of spills, from 48 hours to 24, and require annual dam inspections.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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