Governor Signs Bill To Give Duke Flexibility On Coal Ash Cleanups
Updated 11 p.m.
Governor Pat McCrory has signed a bill that will allow Duke Energy to store coal ash in place permanently at as many as half its plants in North Carolina. The bill also provides a permanent water supply to neighbors of Duke's coal ash ponds.
The new law revises the Coal Ash Management Act, passed in 2014 after a major coal ash spill at Duke's Dan River plant in Eden.
Coal ash is the residue from burning coal. It contains lead, chromium, selenium and other toxic elements.
Duke already is required by court or state law to excavate coal ash at seven of its 14 North Carolina 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.
This bill says Duke can seek permission to leave ash where it is, if it repairs dams and reduces other risks at its coal ash basins - something environmentalists oppose.
“The new coal ash law establishes a firm timetable for providing permanent water connections and repairing dams at coal ash ponds,” DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart said in a statement. “It also protects customers by allowing for less expensive methods of closing coal ash ponds that won’t be passed on in the form of higher electricity prices.”
Duke had lobbied for more flexibility, saying it can't meet the removal deadlines in the 2014 law. And it argues that excavating all its sites would cost too much, requiring electric rate increases.
In a statement Friday night, Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center said the governor and legislators ignored the views of thousands of citizens who spoke at public hearings this spring. Most called on regulators to require Duke to remove coal ash from existing sites and put it into new, lined landfills. He called it a "bailout" for Duke Energy.
“To make matters worse, Governor McCrory signed this bailout bill after work hours late on a Friday afternoon in the hopes that the public and press would overlook what he has done. Actions today demonstrate that the people of North Carolina cannot count on the government of North Carolina to protect their clean water and drinking water supplies, but they can count on Governor McCrory to protect Duke Energy,” Holleman said.
See the bill history and text at NCLeg.net
See videotaped statements by DEQ secretary Donald van der Vaart and assistant secretary Tom Reeder,