NC coal ash commission hires executive director

The state’s new Coal Ash Management Commission has hired its first two staff members, including an executive director.

Director Natalie Birdwell previously worked as special assistant for natural resources at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. She oversaw the state zoo, aquariums, marine fisheries, parks and recreation and the Museum of Natural Sciences.

Lisa Schneider, a Raleigh attorney who practices corporate law, will serve under an annual contract as the commission’s legal counsel. Schneider earlier worked in the environmental division of the state attorney general’s office.

Legislation creating the commission authorized five staff members. Staff members with backgrounds in engineering, community and public relations and administration will be hired in coming weeks.

The measure set Duke Energy on a 15-year timetable to close its 32 coal ash ponds across the state. The commission’s job will be to oversee assignment of risk classifications to the ponds, which will determine the order in which they are closed, and to review closure plans.