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@NCCapitol

Coal ash cleanup plan gets final Senate nod

Posted June 25, 2014

Duke Energy closed its coal-fired power plant in Moncure in 2012. But lagoons of toxic coal ash remain on the site near the Cape Fear River.

— For the second time in less than 24 hours, the state Senate was unanimous in its support of a bill that would require Duke Energy to close and clean up all of its coal ash ponds across North Carolina within 15 years.

With the Senate's final approval Wednesday, the measure now heads to the House.

"This is an example that good policy can result from unexpected circumstances," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said.

Coal ash has been a priority item for Gov. Pat McCrory and lawmakers since Feb. 2, when a cracked pipe at a former Duke power plant near Eden dumped about 40,000 tons of ash into the Dan River, fouling 70 miles of the river in North Carolina and Virginia with toxic sludge.

The bill would require Duke to close four "high-risk" coal ash sites, including the Dan River site, by Aug. 1, 2019, while the state prioritizes the other 10 sites statewide where ash is stored in giant lagoons. Any others rated as high risks would also have a 2019 deadline assigned for cleanup, while those rated as intermediate risks would have to be excavated and closed by 2024. Sites deemed low risk could be covered and left in place but would have to be closed by 2029.

Coal ash ponds in NC

Locations source: NCDENR permits. Informatoin source: Duke Energy

After several senators failed Tuesday in their attempts to get ash ponds in their districts added to the priority list, Sen. Ben Clark, D-Cumberland, suggested Wednesday scrapping the list, which some Republican lawmakers said was irrelevant because a new state commission would assess each site to determine how and when they would be cleaned up.

"There's no rhyme or reason as to picking the four priority sites," Clark said.

His plan to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determine which sites posed the most risk was defeated after bill sponsor Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said he had more confidence in the state commission than in the EPA in assessing North Carolina's coal ash sites.

The Senate did back an amendment by Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Orange, that would require Duke to notify state officials of any future spills as soon as possible. The bill originally gave the utility 24 hours to report a spill. Senators also voted for an amendment by Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, to clarify where groundwater would be monitored for possible contamination.

But Apodaca earned the ire of Stein for killing another amendment without a vote – the second day in a row that occurred. On Tuesday, it was a plan to require Duke to pick up the entire cost of the cleanup, and on Wednesday, it was Stein's suggestion that Duke dig up any low-risk ash pond found to be leaking toxins into the groundwater to install a protective liner.

Apodaca both times substituted amendments that made minor adjustments to the bill that he said had been suggested by the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club praised the Senate bill but said it plans to work with the House to improve it.

"We hope the House will clearly address how to protect communities near ‘low-risk’ sites that are not appropriate for capping in place because of proximity of coal ash to groundwater or surface water sources. This is one of the most critical issues for the House to address," said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, spokesman for the state chapter of the Sierra Club.

Even though it lacked drinking water protections he sought, Stein urged fellow Democrats to support the final bill.

"This is a step in the right direction for North Carolina. It's certainly a substantial step forward from where we're now at," he said.

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  • bettyboopr2 Jun 26, 2014

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    AMEN

  • Jackson Smith Jun 26, 2014

    I am confused. I did not tell Duke Energy that the pipes were reinforced concrete. But they were told years ahead. So who fouled up and who should pay. NOT ME!!! Let's ask Pat.

  • independent_thinker Jun 26, 2014

    Duke pays $2 billion per year in stock dividends to share holders. Suspend the dividend for 5-6 years and clean up the coal ash. As a shareholder, you take risks, including the risk that a utility can't pay a dividend. Welcome to the real world.

  • Sumo Vita Jun 25, 2014

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    How about you read up on which party it was that got paid to look the other way while regulations on these ponds were being gutted. Hint: it wasn't the democrats.

  • Steven Jun 25, 2014

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    Exactly! and also not add an increase to the rates for the mess they created.

  • viking416 Jun 25, 2014

    Not good or fast enough. Duke needs to pay 100% for this mess and our leaders need to make it happen!

  • downtownraleighcomputers Jun 25, 2014

    2029!!???!!! How about adding a no rate increase clause until this is completely completed.

  • Arthur Raleigh Jun 25, 2014

    We, the citizens and taxpayers of North Carolina, should not pay for this! Duke Energy should pay for it 100%!!!

  • Ijaz Fahted Jun 25, 2014

    Yesterday on the news it seems that every senator with a cola ash pond in their district had their own version of a bill that basically said: "lets get this cleaned up, mine first. The rest of them can get cleaned up sometime, but mine first"

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jun 25, 2014

    "The bill would require Duke to close four "high-risk" coal ash sites, including the Dan River site, by Aug. 1, 2019, while the state prioritizes the other 10 sites statewide where ash is stored in giant lagoons. Any others rated as high risks would also have a 2019 deadline assigned for cleanup, while those rated as intermediate risks would have to be excavated and closed by 2024. Sites deemed to be low risk could be covered and left in place but would have to be closed by 2029."

    Are they kidding!?!

    How much is still at risk from this junk during all that time?

    Why don't they keep the coal ash dry and recycle it into the production of concrete, blacktop, bricks, etc. where it can be easily and healthily recycled? (Once it's been wet, it can't be used for that.)

    And heck, I bet the manufacturers of those products would probably carry it off for free.

    It's insane the way it's been done for so long.