Politics & Government

Coal ash bill rewritten to avoid veto

A concrete pipe below this coal ash impoundment at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden failed, releasing coal ash and ash pond water into the Dan River in 2014.
A concrete pipe below this coal ash impoundment at the Dan River Power Plant in Eden failed, releasing coal ash and ash pond water into the Dan River in 2014. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

State legislators are moving a late-in-session coal ash bill rewritten to address the concerns Gov. Pat McCrory had when he vetoed a previous version earlier this month.

The proposal is a surrender by the General Assembly on its insistence of having an independent commission monitoring the McCrory administration’s regulation of coal ash cleanup in basins across the state. It would do away with the Coal Ash Management Commission, which the state Supreme Court ruled was an overreach by the legislature into the executive branch because the governor didn’t control it.

The bill would allow Duke Energy more time to clean up its sites if it upgrades its basin dams and provides permanent drinking water connections for neighbors of coal-fired power plants. State environmental regulators would assess the progress the utility makes within 18 months.

The bill is expected to come up in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon. The legislature is moving quickly toward the end of session, now that a budget compromise has been struck, expected later this week or next. It would do away with the Coal Ash Management Commission

Although the legislature has enough votes to override the veto, legislative leaders decided to work with the governor to avoid a prolonged court battle, and to get clean water to hundreds of well-owners who live near Duke Energy plants. They have been living on bottled water that Duke has voluntarily provided for more than a year, although the company notes there is no definitive link between elevated levels of vanadium and hexavalent chromium, which occur naturally and in coal ash.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the compromise.

“The North Carolina Senate has once again failed to protect the people they claim to represent,: said Dan Crawford of the N.C. League of Conservation Voters. “Instead, the anti-clean water N.C. Senate has brokered yet another sweetheart deal for Duke Energy. Right now, families in North Carolina can’t drink their own well water. But decision-makers in Raleigh would allow a monopoly with over $23 billion in revenue to go two whole years without providing those families clean water. When we say these politicians put polluters over people, the N.C. Senate’s coal ash bill is exactly what we’re talking about.”

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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