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NC House Committee to debate mountaintop mining ban

Today a committee of North Carolina lawmakers will debate a ban on importing coal that is mined from Appalachian mountaintops. Duke Energy strongly opposes the measure. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: Mountaintop coal removal requires blowing up several hundred feet on the top of a mountain, and it can devastate communities like Peachtree, West Virginia where Bo Webb lives. "I live beneath a mountaintop removal site and it's gotta stop," says Webb. "My family's health, our safety's at risk, they're destroying all of our communities in southern West Virginia for a lump of coal." Webb joined several hundred protesters in Uptown Charlotte yesterday opposing Duke Energy's plans to build a new coal-fired unit and continue using coal mined from mountaintops. Duke Energy spokeswoman Marilyn Lineberger says about half of its coal comes from mountaintop removal, because it is low in sulfur as most of Duke's power plants require. Under the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act, North Carolina companies like Duke and Progress Energy would not be able to renew their mountaintop coal contracts once they expire. Lineberger says Duke Energy only supports a federal solution to the problem of mountaintop removal - not a state ban. "That would not stop the practice of mountaintop mining," says Lineberger. "All that would do is make our customers a captive audience for markets that we would have to go outside, investing millions and millions of dollars in retrofits." Of the 50 states, North Carolina and Georgia are the two largest consumers of coal mined from mountaintops. A version of the ban has been introduced in both states. Today's hearing is only the first of many hurdles the measure will have to clear before it would become law. More info: The Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act (HB 340) is sponsored by Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). It will be heard by the House Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Tuesday, April 21 at 12 p.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, Raleigh.