NC lawmakers OK reviving Coal Ash Management Commission; McCrory threatens veto

Lawmakers on May 31 during the vote on the coal ash issue.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Lawmakers pushed forward a bill Tuesday that would decide who will oversee coal ash clean up across North Carolina.

The N.C. House on Tuesday afternoon approved Senate Bill 71 that would bring back the Coal Ash Management Commission. Then, later in the afternoon, the N.C. Senate approved the measure with a with 46-1 vote.

The commission was disbanded after NC Governor Pat McCrory sued the state saying the General Assembly had too much control over the group.

The bill also requires Duke Energy to provide an alternative water supply to people living near coal ash ponds.

Critics worry the bill could also prevent duke from having to dig up all of its ponds.

The governor, who is still opposed to the commission, says he will veto the bill.

“This legislative vote is not good for our environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina,” McCrory said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon.

The bill was referred to a conference committee to work out which residents would receive a new water supply. The problem stems from confusion earlier this year over water contamination.

Residents were initially told not to drink their water by the NC Department of Health and Human Services, but then later told it was safe by the NC Dept. of Environmental Quality.

The bill will provide a new water supply to residents within 2,640 yards of an ash pond. If passed, an agreement between Duke and a water supplier will have to be made by October of 2017, and approved by the state by December of 2017.

The bill was approved by the House on Tuesday with a 84-25 vote. Opponents to the bill say it allows DEQ the possibility to change the risk classifications of the coal ash ponds, which also impacts how and when they must be cleaned up.

Currently, all of Duke’s ash ponds must be excavated and moved by 2024, a task the company argues, may be impossible and extremely costly to ratepayers.  The bill would give the newly formed coal ash management commission and DEQ more time to change that requirement and allow some ash ponds to be “capped in place,” which means covering the ash and sealing it from above.

In a statement, Duke Energy said, “Duke Energy applauds North Carolina’s passage of Senate Bill 71, which further strengthens North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act and ensures the state has the flexibility to make the best decisions to safely close ash basins. The bill also reconstitutes the Coal Ash Management Commission to provide oversight and consider how any closure plan will impact customer power bills in the future.

“The legislation has strong bipartisan support from lawmakers, as well as environmental and business communities who recognize the opportunity North Carolina has to continue to lead on this issue.

“In addition, Senate Bill 71 encourages safe recycling of coal ash, which is non-hazardous, and gives ash basin neighbors certainty about their future drinking water quality. Although the science and engineering studies continue to demonstrate that basins are not impacting neighbors wells, extending water lines benefits all customers because it preserves the full range of cost effective ash basin closure options.”

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