Raleigh, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, said she wants to study how best to handle coal ash, the toxin-laced material that spilled from a decommissioned Duke Energy power plant on the Dan River and now covers 70 miles of stream bed in North Carolina and Virginia.
"I think we in North Carolina have really woken up to the disastrous problem that has just recently taken place here," Hagan said Monday shortly after she filed the paperwork to file for re-election. "We've got to be sure that we clean this up and make sure this doesn't happen again."
A broken stormwater pipe dumped 30,000 to 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, according to Duke Energy officials. Coal ash is the material left over after coal is burned for energy. Although much of it is inert, the ash contains arsenic, mercury, selenium and other heavy metals that are harmful to fish, humans and other living things.
Environmental groups have been pushing Duke Energy to clean up the coal ash ponds, some of which date to the 1950s.
Both state regulators and the federal government have some oversight of more than 30 coal ash ponds spread over 14 locations in North Carolina, all of them current or former power plants.
"We've got to have oversight on the handling, the disposal and the storage of coal ash," Hagan said. "When you think that just a broken pipe has caused this amount of leakage, and we know that we have 36 coal ash ponds in North Carolina, it is a serious issue, and we need to study it."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is due to publish regulations by mid-December that would determine how the federal government should regulate coal ash ponds. Regulators could either require that coal ash be regulated as hazardous, and therefore subject to stricter controls, or nonhazardous. As part of a separate action, a bill that has passed the U.S. House and is pending in the Senate would direct the EPA to treat the material as nonhazardous and by and large allow the states to largely regulate coal ash.
Asked about this bill, Hagan said the entire landscape of coal ash needed more study.
"I certainly want to review the science on that issue and really get in-depth information on what is included in the coal ash and how it is being stored," she said.