Lawmaker hopes to revive coal ash commission

Workers excavate coal ash-laden soil to be removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden in this 2016 photo.
Workers excavate coal ash-laden soil to be removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden in this 2016 photo. AP

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, says he will introduce a bill to revive the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission, which was dissolved after a N.C. Supreme Court ruling over how its members were appointed.

The legislature created the commission in 2014, following Duke Energy’s spill of ash into the Dan River. It was charged with an oversight role as state regulators rate the risks of 32 Duke ash ponds across the state. The ratings will determine how and when the ponds are closed.

That plan came to a halt in January, when the Supreme Court sided with Gov. Pat McCrory’s challenge of legislative appointments to the coal ash board and two other panels.

McCrory’s office disbanded the commission in March, saying the court ruling made it “no longer a legal entity.”

McGrady, who was an architect of legislation creating the nine-member commission, expressed disappointment at that decision, saying the Department of Environmental Quality needs oversight on ash issues.

“The Coal Ash Management Commission is needed to review the recommendations of DEQ," McGrady said in a statement Friday night.

“The legislature wanted an independent body to consider DEQ's decisions on which coal ash ponds must be cleaned up first and how they would be cleaned up. I am working closely with Senate leadership to move the legislation in advance of DEQ issuing its initial decisions so the newly reconstituted Commission will have the ability to review them.”

The proposed legislation is likely to address appointments for the two other state commissions noted in the Supreme Court decision, he said.

The legislation comes at a critical time. DEQ is poised to issue final risk recommendations for Duke’s ash by May 18. Those recommendations would become final, in the absence of a commission, 60 days later.

DEQ held hearings in March about proposed risk ratings. Those proposals rated 20 ash ponds as of high or intermediate risk, meaning ash would have to be excavated from them. But eight ponds were of low-to-intermediate risk, meaning ash could remain in place.

Duke Energy says it can safely cap most ash ponds, a cheaper, quicker cleanup option. Environmental advocates say all ash should be removed to protect water supplies.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender