N.C. House members, defying a promised threat by Gov. Pat McCrory, voted Wednesday to recreate a commission to oversee the state’s key decisions on coal ash disposal.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, also requires Duke Energy to connect private wells that might be contaminated by ash to municipal water lines or filtration systems.
The bill gives Duke until October 2017 to file a binding agreement to supply alternate water to homes with contaminated wells and homes in the path of contaminated groundwater.
It also revives an oversight panel that McCrory disbanded after the state Supreme Court agreed with his challenge of legislative appointments to it. The House measure gives the governor five of the seven appointees to the commission and the legislature two.
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McCrory, in a statement after the vote, said he would veto the bill. The commission would still be unconstitutional, the governor said, and would undermine nearly two years of work to clean up Duke’s ash.
“It’s disappointing to see legislation of this magnitude drafted behind closed doors,” McCrory said. “This bill is a blatant attempt to bypass state regulators and seek more favorable treatment from an unaccountable and unneeded bureaucracy that further delays the cleanup process.”
Duke said Tuesday night it supports the bill, in part because the commission is able to review the impact of cleanup costs on customers’ bills. Duke would like to leave much of its ash in place, the cheapest option.
“While the science and engineering continue to demonstrate that we have not influenced plant neighbors wells, we believe giving them peace of mind also benefits North Carolina while preserving the full range of cost effective options to safely close ash basins,” the company said in a statement.
The oversight commission would review risk classifications by the Department of Environmental Quality, released last week, that will determine how and when 33 ash ponds will be closed.
DEQ decided Duke should excavate ash, the solution favored by environmental groups, from each pond. But it asked legislators for 18 months to further review and possibly change those decisions. Duke said last week it may connect homeowners to public water lines.
Under the bill passed by the House, the Coal Ash Management Commission would have 120 days after its members are appointed to review the risk classifications.
“Having the oversight that this bill contemplates is critical to us doing our job to protect the public health and the environment,” Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, said during floor debate.
Environmental advocates said the measure helps Duke more than the public.
The bill’s sponsor, Hendersonville Republican Chuck McGrady, says it is not clear that all ash must be excavated to protect water supplies, as advocates say.
“This bill is the latest attempt by Raleigh politicians to bail out Duke Energy,” the Southern Environmental Law Center said Tuesday. “After heavy lobbying by Duke Energy, the Raleigh politicians want to re-open the process to try to find a way to let Duke Energy off the hook.”