Coal ash legislation faces delay

Posted July 31, 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.

— House and Senate negotiators are pointing fingers at each other after failing to reach agreement on a bill setting out requirements for how and when Duke Energy would clean up 33 coal ash ponds at 14 locations around the state.

Should the impasse continue, it would delay, but not kill the measure. 

Time was running out on the current legislative session Thursday as Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the lead negotiator in the House, left after a day of floor debate and negotiations saying that there was an "impasse" over the bill. 

Senators plan to adjourn in the early hours of Friday morning, meaning that, unless a deal is reached sometime before midnight, any measure would likely have to wait until later this month or potentially until November. 

"I don't want to debate the Senate through the press," McGrady said, declining to enumerate the sticking points and saying only that the two sides were at loggerheads.

Coal ash came to the forefront of North Carolina's public policy debate on Feb. 2, when a spill in Rockingham County dumped 40,000 tons of the toxin-laced goop into the Dan River. Coal ash is the material leftover after coal is burned for fuel and contains mercury, arsenic and other poisons. 

"We are working on it," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said earlier Thursday when asked about progress on the measure. 

In fact, senators said they believed they had a deal Thursday, and their negotiators signed a conference report, which is the formal document that usually bridges the gap between two sides. 

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, expressed "real disappointment" on his Facebook page.

"There will be no time to complete this bill before adjournment," Woodard posted Thursday afternoon. "We had time to take action...but leadership frittered the time away."

Senate negotiators said House negotiators refused to sign the report. But Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, another House negotiator, said her team had never even seen the Senate's document.

"We did not refuse to sign it," she emphatically told reporters Thursday evening. 

Samuelson said the impasse was over one issue: how or whether to define "low-risk" coal ash ponds, the last ones the bill would require the utility to close and remediate.

Neither the House nor the Senate version originally included such a definition, but Samuelson said House members felt it was important to add it. 

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, told reporters earlier Thursday the talks were stymied by the House's insistence on adding "new language." 

Another key difference between House and Senate versions of the bill involved the oversight of coal ash cleanup. The House bill would have left much of the supervision in the hands of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, while the Senate would empower an independent board to supervise the cleanup. The Senate also called for more stringent cleanup timelines. 

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn their summer session this week. Senators plan to leave before sunrise Friday, while House members will leave town sometime on Saturday. A proposed adjournment resolution would allow the legislature to consider coal ash during a special one-day session in August or a planned November session that will primarily focus on Medicaid reform.


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Roy Blumenfeld Aug 1, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I agree completely. We should take our time and let people continue to have their well water be contaminated so that the biggest power company in the United States, which makes billions in profits per year, doesn't have to do anything about it. And even though 92% of the coal ash from the Dan River spill is still actually in the river, I honestly think that 8% which was taken out was too much. Corporations are people and since when do people have to act responsibly? Especially when high concentrations of toxic sludge is involved!

  • Eq Videri Jul 31, 2014
    user avatar

    Good grief. Are the N.C. Republicans so dysfunctional that we will have no alternative but to return N.C. Democrats to power?

    I shudder at the thought, which grows increasingly plausible day by day.

  • ncsense Jul 31, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You might want to do a little research. N.C. has already experienced damage to fish populations in lakes that received discharges from coal ash ponds. High levels of selenium caused 16 of 20 species in Belews Lake (and all of the sports fishing species) to die off and made fish in Hyco Lake unsafe to eat. And that was back in the 1980s-1990s. More recent studies have also linked fish deformities to contaminants in wastewater discharges from the ash ponds.

  • emaleth Jul 31, 2014

    View quoted thread

    JHere he goes again, saying coal ash is not toxic. He must work for Duke Energy. Seriously, we'd all love to know what you're smoking because it must be some good stuff, even better than the coal ash.

  • Ty Shrake Jul 31, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    FYI... Coal ash has about the same toxicity as common dirt. It is NOT, as the article states, "toxic". The only thing toxic about the coal ash spill was the volume of material and where it ended up, not the material itself.

  • Eq Videri Jul 31, 2014
    user avatar

    Good going, guys. Nice NCGOP teamwork. You're handing Kay and Roy a great issue.

  • miseem Jul 31, 2014

    One thing for sure, we would not want to rush cleaning up poison next to our waterways and drinking supplies with job killing regulations.