Key lawmakers say coal ash cleanup should not raise rates

Posted March 12, 2014

A coal ash pond at the former Lee Steam Station near Goldsboro sits along the Neuse River.

— Some key lawmakers say they are unhappy with the prospect of Duke Energy raising rates to pay for the cleanup of coal ash ponds across North Carolina. 

"My objective is to keep it off the ratepayers," said Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, a co-chairman of the legislature's Environmental Review Commission and the state House Committee on Public Utilities. 

Coal ash, the toxin-laced mixture left over after coal is burned for fuel, became a front-and-center environmental issue for the state when a Duke coal ash storage pond spilled up to 40,000 gallons of the stuff in the Dan River near Eden last month. The company has 14 locations throughout the state where coal ash is stored in unlined ponds like the one in Eden. 

Duke has consistently said shareholders and the company's insurers would bear the cost of cleaning up the actual spill and the damage it did. Chief Executive Lynn Good, however, said last week that the company would turn to ratepayers to help cover the cost of permanently cleaning up all of its ash ponds in North Carolina. That is consistent with her remarks during a conference call with stock analysts in February.

Many of the ash ponds have been shown to be leaking contaminants into local groundwater supplies. 

Top-ranking lawmakers said early on they would push through bills that would require Duke to clean up the ponds. Left unsaid in those early conversations was who would pay for the cleanup.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said that he wants to "keep politics out" of the decision-making process and has declined to say what he thinks the company should do. Duke officials are scheduled to deliver their plans for dealing with the ponds to state regulators by Saturday.

However, lawmakers interviewed Wednesday said they were unhappy with the idea that electric rates could go up in order to pay for the cleanup.

"I've got people in Spindale who still live in mill houses, and they can't take another increase on their rates," Hager said. "A power rate increase is the most regressive tax you can have."

Right now, the decision over whether the company could seek a rate increase to pay for the cleanup rests with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, a body appointed by the governor. However, the legislature could direct the commission to do particular things. 

Hager said the final solution might involve giving the company some "relief in other areas" that would save it money and have it use those savings to conduct the cleanup. He could not be specific on what "relief" the state might provide. 

The legislature's Environmental Review Commission met Wednesday but did not take up any coal ash-related matters. 

The ERC conducts oversight hearings and drafts legislation for the full General Assembly to consider. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said ERC could hold a special meeting just on coal ash, if warranted, before the session begins on May 14.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, who has worked on coal ash-related bills for years, said that recent court actions may have given the state the ability to direct the company to clean up its coal ash ponds. However, she, too, worried about whether consumers would pick up the cost.

Coal ash ponds are unlined. Short of spills, they have allowed contaminants like mercury and arsenic to leach into groundwater supplies.

"From my perspective, that's an irresponsible way to store waste product, and Duke should have known better all along," Harrison said. 

Democrats plan to hold a news conference Thursday to lay out what they think should be in any coal ash bill that moves through the General Assembly.


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  • Forthe Newssite Mar 13, 2014
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    AWESOME idea, but sadly our less than distinguished gubnor will NEVER let that happen and will lobby against it. I, for one, would LOVE to see that happen.

  • weasel2 Mar 13, 2014

    They need to slap a price freeze on Duke Energy ( or whatever the monopoly is called now)for 10 years and then make them cleanup all of the ash ponds. Maybe the CEO won"t be able to afford his new Lamborgini next year.

  • Forthe Newssite Mar 13, 2014
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    Well I more than agree with the key lawmakers, but if DE and the gubner don't the rates WILL go up.

    "The fact we even need laws to make Duke clean up these 14 ash ponds on their own dime is ridiculous."


  • Fred Kozlof Mar 13, 2014
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    For all those 'lawmakers' who thought it was OK to eliminate PROGRESS Energy, I say...make those lawmakers pay too. I guess the name 'Progress' bugged them :)

  • tayled Mar 13, 2014

    There is a huge difference between should not, and will not. This merger should have never passed because Duke can now do anything it wants.

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 13, 2014

    One thing that all Duke customers need to be aware of, is that rate increases also means sale tax revenue increase. For a state that needs money, which way do you think the lawmakers and utility com. will lean?

  • dwntwnboy2 Mar 13, 2014

    Duke rakes in profits hand over fist, in the BILLIONS per year. THEY can afford to clean up their mess. They made it, let THEM clean in up- don't allow rate increases for their bad actions and greedy practices. They KNEW these things were a problem and only when there was a disaster sized issue, have they even addressed the situation. Take it out of the CEO's bonus check.

  • Michael Hart Mar 13, 2014
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    "I've got people in Spindale who still live in mill houses, and they can't take another increase on their rates," Hager said. "A power rate increase is the most regressive tax you can have."
    just one that hasn't been bought by Duke, he will be pulled aside from Art Pope and given a good "here's how it's done" talking to!

  • Alan Baker Mar 13, 2014
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    "I've got people in Spindale who still live in mill houses, and they can't take another increase on their rates," Hager said. "A power rate increase is the most regressive tax you can have."

    A Republican representative acknowledging regressive taxes. Thank you, Representative Mike Hager.

  • Kaitlyn Legare Mar 13, 2014
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    Its ironic that this spill comes to light right after DE starts slapping their customers with huge security deposits on their accounts.

    How about the utilities commission does the same and hits DE with a $20 billion damage deposit on our environment? And make the shareholders and CEO cover the damages.

    I really miss Progress Energy :(