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Energy & Environment

Lawmakers Send Flexible Coal Ash Cleanup Bill To McCrory

Coal ash belmont
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
/
Aerial view of coal ash basins at the Allen plant in Belmont.

 North Carolina lawmakers have sent Governor Pat McCrory a bill that would relax the state's coal ash cleanup law. It passed the House, 82-32, Thursday night and immediately drew criticism from environmentalists.

The bill, called the Coal Ash Cleanup Act, reworks the Coal Ash Management Act, which lawmakers adopted in 2014 after a major coal ash spill at Duke Energy's Dan River plant in Eden. 

The new bill eliminates the independent Coal Ash Management Commission - something Gov. McCrory didn't like. And it includes a new requirement: that Duke provide coal plant neighbors with a permanent clean water supply - such as city water or filters - by October 2018.

In exchange, Duke can ask regulators for permission to leave coal ash in place at up to half its North Carolina coal plants. Duke also must repair leaking coal ash ponds and dams, and create a system for recycling ash in concrete products.

Duke already is required - by the 2014 law or court orders - to excavate coal ash at seven of the 14 plants and move it to new, lined landfills.  In May, the Department of Environmental Quality ordered the remaining seven sites to be excavated as well, rating them "intermediate risk" under the law's ratings system.  

But regulators said then that they wanted the law revised. If Duke repaired dams and reduced other risks, the DEQ wanted to be able to lower risk ratings later.    

Duke also has lobbied for more flexibility, saying last month it can't meet removal deadlines in the law. And it argues that excavating all its sites would be too expensive - requiring big electric rate increases. 

Duke and regulators support this bill, but environmentalists call it a "bailout" for the utility. They say the legislature ignored the will of thousands of residents who argued at public hearings that Duke should be required to remove ash. 

Lawmakers say the bill was a compromise with Governor McCrory, who vetoed an earlier version. It now awaits his signature. 

BILL TEXT 

See the bill history and text at NCLeg.net