Lawmakers to push legislation for coal ash cleanup

Posted February 11, 2014

— The chairman of the Senate Rules Committee said Tuesday that he is drafting legislation that would force Duke Energy to clean up 14 coal ash ponds around North Carolina like the one that dumped thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the Dan River last week.

"Just letting them sit there is not the answer to the problem," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have balked at legislation in years past that would have forced power companies to remove the waste from their coal ash ponds.

The ponds are an older method of storing what's left over after power plant burns coal. More modern methods store the coal as dry material, rather than in wet ponds perched near the same rivers and lakes that supply water boiled to turn steam turbines, as was the case in the Dan River incident. 

The General Assembly is not in session, but an interim environmental oversight committee was to meet Wednesday to review actions taken with regard to the coal ash spill and discuss possible responses. That meeting has been postponed until Monday due to a pending snow storm in Raleigh.

However, Apodaca said the legislature, or at least the state Senate, will put forward a cleanup bill when it returns to session in May. He has asked legislative staff to draft a bill that would require Duke to dry out the ponds and move the ash to another kind of storage site, possibly a hazardous waste landfill. Those are steps called for by environmental groups that have participated in lawsuits intended to force Duke to curb leaks from the coal ash ponds. 

The spill has affected both North Carolina and Virginia, because the Dan River flows from Rockingham County across the state line. 

"Given the damage to Virginia waters that has already occurred, the best option for mitigating future harm is to move the toxic coal ash out of these unlined, earthen pits and into dry, lined landfills away from the rivers and lakes we rely on for drinking water and recreation," Cale Jaffe, director of the Virginia office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a news release about the Dan River spill.

Duke has talked about taking various approaches to the coal ash problem. They include "capping in place" coal ash ponds, which would dry them out and top them with an impermeable cover. Environmentalists say such methods could still threaten groundwater supplies.

Apodaca said he doesn't like the idea of leaving large amounts of toxic materials perched along waterways and highways throughout the state. 

"What I keep hearing is we don't know how to do it," he said. "Well, it's time we start figuring out how to do it."

Apodaca said a coal ash pond near his western North Carolina district is three times larger than the one on the Dan River.

"I notified Duke of our intentions," he said. "We want a solution somehow."

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a former Sierra Club president, said he has talked with Apodaca and would be interested in introducing a similar bill in the House.

"What happened on the Dan River was a wake up call," McGrady said. 

Duke spokeswoman Lisa Hoffmann said that the company doesn't typically comment on pending legislation.

"We've already come out and said that we're accountable for (the spill)," Hoffmann said.

The company, she said, was already accelerating its long-term planning for dealing with the coal ash ponds, adding, "We'll be working with all the appropriate stakeholders."


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  • John Paul Bertke Feb 13, 2014
    user avatar

    "If they do something, it'll end up costing the tax payers in NC. They'll either allow the companies to use tax dollars, or tax credit, and then allow increase in rates on top of that to recoup any lose." - rebelyell55

    No, we have state panels to block Duke Energy from passing along rate increases for inappropriate reasons! Oh woops, Pat McCrory replaced all the panel members, didn't he?

    Looks like we have the wolves guarding the sheep here in NC. I'm still trying to tell people: electing people from Duke Energy into public service is foolish - the conflict of interest alone is an obvious problem. This article is just another in a long line of case-in-points.

  • baldchip Feb 12, 2014

    Come on Duke energy-propose a solution. Be pro-active in this mess. Do the right thing for NC and beyond!!

  • Rebelyell55 Feb 12, 2014

    Decates ago, the elected leaders allowed mining companies and lumber companies to do the same thing in our mountains. If they do something, it'll end up costing the tax payers in NC. They'll either allow the companies to use tax dollars, or tax credit, and then allow increase in rates on top of that to recoup any lose.

  • ALECarolina Feb 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    See here, my good man........think of all the JOBS they SAVED! This attack piece by the AP is a complete fabrication, designed to make the NCGOP look like a bunch of taxpayer-trough gravy sucking pigs........wait a minute.........DING DING DING DING DING! We have a WINNER

  • Jack Jones Feb 11, 2014
    user avatar

    Associated Press, Feb 9, 2014 - NC regulators shielded Duke's coal ash pollution. - This is a great read on how NC Republicans protected Duke Power from three separate lawsuits regarding pollution in 2013.

  • ALECarolina Feb 11, 2014

    ALEC to the rescue!

    Wanna bet that some of Pat's boys just HAPPEN to be in the coal ash cleanup biz?

    Ahhhhhh.......the never ending horn of plenty, chock-full of taxpayer money.

    Pat McCrory and his fellow ALEC stooges promised us transparency.......and they have delivered. Their motives are about as transparent as they can get. Privatized Profits, and Socialized Debt.....the GOOD kind of socialism!

  • Forthe Newssite Feb 11, 2014
    user avatar

    WHY are we constantly closing the door AFTER all the animals have left? WHEN will our politicians learn that some things need protection from those who care for nothing but the $$$$$

  • xylem01 Feb 11, 2014

    @FEDORA - This is what I expect as well.

  • John Paul Bertke Feb 11, 2014
    user avatar

    "Just letting them sit there is not the answer to the problem," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

    Would this be the same Apodaca who had to be restrained by guards because he "felt threatened by Goodman" speaking to the legislature in favor of Dix Park?

    And who more recently voted for "floating mixers" to clean up Jordan Lake?

    Heads up, Mr. Apodaca and NCGA: some fresh sewage is coming down the Haw River today.

  • Dr Sanchez Feb 11, 2014

    McCrory already is paying a campaign friend for solar mixers to stir up the water in Lake Jordan. Do you really believe MCrory is going to bite the hand that has been feeding him for the past several years. He and DENR are giving Duke Energy and their friends carte blanche in this state.