RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A legislative joint-session passed a new coal ash bill that sets rulings for how Duke Energy will clean up coal ash across the state.
House Bill 630 passed with a 82-32 vote. It will now head to the governor
The last coal ash bill, Senate Bill 71, required Duke Energy to excavate all of their sites by 2024.
SB71 passed, but was immediately vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Lawmakers said they have worked with the governor to create the new House Bill 630.
“We included them in the process. We worked with them for the last three weeks,” explained Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe).
The bill has three main components.
- It gives the governor control over how Duke must clean up its ponds through the Department of Environmental Quality. This was originally a task for the Coal Ash Management Commission that was dissolved after McCrory sued, saying the commission had too much legislative control.
- The bill requires Duke Energy to provide a new, permanent water supply for people living next to coal ash ponds.
That has to be done by 2018. The company says they are in the process of determining how and where those water supplies will come from.
- It allows Duke Energy the opportunity to change the risk classification of their sites from “intermediate” to “low”. This means they have the option to cap the ash in place, and cover it rather than dig it up and move it. In order to get a low classification, the sites must first be improved structurally, and alternative water must be supplied to residents living nearby. The cap-in-place option is exponentially cheaper than excavation.
“At what point do we sacrifice public health for costs?” Said Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford)
Many environmental groups have spoken out against the bill.
“This solves one problem of providing drinking water to those who need it but it ignores many problems related to the environment,” said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard from the Sierra Club. “Specifically what’s going to be done with the coal ash and the impact that has on our rivers lakes and streams.”
Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said just because a site has a “low” classification does not mean it’s guaranteed to be capped in place.
“We’re going to let science and engineering determine what’s the right solution for each of these basins. If it’s excavation that’s what we’ll do, if it’s capping in place that’s what we’ll do, or if it’s beneficial reuse,” said Brooks. “What this level of classification does is gives us the flexibly to choose that right choice.”
Duke said seven of its 14 sites are already set to be excavated.
As for the other seven with a “low” classification, Duke will have until 2029 to clean them up.
The bill also allows them to apply for extensions that require approval from DEQ.
Following the House’s vote, Duke Energy released a statement that read:
“We appreciate the legislature and administration working together to craft a bipartisan solution that protects the environment and local communities, while preserving the full range of options to safely close ash basins in ways that also protect customer bills. This legislation strengthens the Coal Ash Management Act, provides peace of mind through a permanent water supply to plant neighbors and promotes the beneficial reuse of coal ash.
The flexibility that this law provides will help ensure that science, not special interests, can provide the right closure solution for each of our sites. We are committed to meeting the requirements of the law and to being a leader in the safe closure of ash basins across the state.”