Senate hears governor's coal ash plan

Posted June 5, 2014

— State senators had a lot of questions Thursday during their first committee hearing on Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed plan to clean up the state's 33 coal ash pits.

The plan, rolled out earlier this year, was presented to the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee by Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla, who opened his remarks by taking issue with criticism of his agency's handling of the coal ash issue.

"The state of North Carolina is in charge of this process. No one else," Skvarla said defensively. 

He pledged that "science and engineering will determine" what clean-up process the state will require of Duke Energy at each site, and he  accused environmental groups of playing politics with DENR, noting that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulators had backed the state. 

"According to them, DENR has done it right, and DENR will continue to do it right," Skvarla said. "But I can tell you right now, the governor's blueprint is not about politics. It’s about doing the right thing for North Carolina." 

The plan calls for the coal ash to be removed at four "priority" sites: Riverbend in Gaston County, Asheville, Sutton in Wilmington and the Dan River plant near Eden where about 39,000 tons of ash spilled into the river four months ago. The proposal would require Duke to submit plans for the clean-up within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation. 

Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder called the closure plan the "crown jewel" of the governor's proposal but said Duke could be allowed to cap coal ash pits and leave the toxic sludge in place at some other sites. 

"One size does not fit all," he said, reiterating that DENR "is driving the train here." 

Reeder said new groundwater protections would also be underway in "a little over a year."

"I don't think you can ask for more than that," he added.

Senators asked skeptically whether the proposal includes any timetable or deadline for the actual cleanup to be completed. Skvarla replied that the timeline would depend on the plans submitted by Duke.

Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett, disagreed with a provision giving the utility up to 24 hours to notify the state in case of a future spill.

"I can't see what the hang-up would be," Rabin said. "I can’t conceive of it taking that long."

Sens. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, and Tommy Tucker, R-Union, quizzed Skvarla on potential "beneficial" industry uses for coal ash, especially in concrete and construction.

Henry Batten, who owns Concrete Supply Co. in Charlotte, said North Carolina's concrete industry currently imports hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash a year from other states because North Carolina's coal ash isn't fine enough or clean enough to use.

Batten urged lawmakers to take "common-sense" steps to change that as they weigh forcing Duke to remove its ash.

"Where are they going to move it?" he said. "I’m sitting here telling you that the industry wants to move it and consume it. Where you need to move it is into commerce and let the industry help you consume it."

George Everett, Duke's director of environmental and legislative affairs, explained that the 106 million tons of coal ash in North Carolina's pits has too much carbon and ammonia to be usable for industry, It could be processed with existing technology, he confirmed, but cautioned the processing plant would cost the utility $30 million to build.

Even if it did, Everett said, it would take industry users more than 100 years to consume the ash under current demand levels.

Environmental groups urged the Senate to adopt a tougher bill than the governor's proposal, which they called "a good starting point."

The Sierra Club's Cassie Garvin said a comprehensive coal ash plan needs to include set dates for the closure of the storage ponds, standards for how the clean-up will be conducted and rules for future handling of coal ash. 

"We’re counting on you to prevent the problem from getting worse," Garvin told the committee.

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr called on senators not to allow Duke to simply cap unlined ash pits, saying they're leaching toxins into drinking water every single day. 

"For instance," Starr testified, "at the Lee facility in Goldsboro, groundwater is being poisoned by arsenic at over 60 times the state standard. Let that sink in. Sixty times the state standard."

The committee did not take a vote on the measure Thursday. Senators are expected to resume work on the measure next week. 


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  • funnything Jun 6, 2014

    Skvarla, the climate science denier, the guy who thinks oil is an infinite resource, the guy who says that the agency he heads is the biggest impediment to economic growth, the guy who admits he knows little about coal sah pollution, the guy who republicans put in charge, thar's the guy who now say science will help clean this up?

    oh pullleeeeez! NNNOOOOOOO!


  • Donna Davis Jun 5, 2014
    user avatar

    Get rid of him NOW!


  • David Lisle Jun 5, 2014
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    The only plan that should be considered is DE cleaning up their mess responsibly and not increasing consumer energy rates. They (DE inherited it by acquiring Progress) need to just suck it up. EPA regulations were in effect long before this mess came to light. Haz Mat clean up should have been considered as part of the assets and liabilities of acquiring Progress! I bet the state will approve a rate hike to help bail DE out of this mess, so we as tax payers will bare the brunt of clean up!

  • Jun 5, 2014

    The folks who are always the most defensive and ready to lash out in anger when called out on their behavior do so for one simple reason. They know they are wrong, doing something wrong, or doing it for the wrong or inappropriate reasons, and are upset at being called out on their behavior. This whole cadre of outsiders from the right wing controlling our state knows what they are doing is wrong each and every day, and their only defense is to get mad at the people who are exposing them for who and what they really are. Bullies do exactly the same thing.

  • Rebelyell55 Jun 5, 2014

    Of course Rabin don't understand anything. Most likely one of the worse or useless Sen. to be put in by Harnett Co. Where was his voice when Duke was pump toxic water in the stream going into the Capefear river? Now he's Ok, with the Fracking, and bet he ain't said nothing about how quickly they have to response to a spill.

  • Jun 5, 2014

    Skvarla "We're in charge of this train wreck, and you better believe it!"

  • anotherbabyboomer Jun 5, 2014

    Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder called the closure plan the "crown jewel" of the governor's proposal but said Duke could be allowed to cap coal ash pits and leave the toxic sludge in place at some other sites.

    Why is that if it isn't for some kind of political agenda? Every site should be cleaned up.

  • ALLIN Jun 5, 2014

    It's not the Governors Plan. He made that very clear that he would let the people responsible for it do the planning and negotiations. He is a leader and leaders lead, they delegate to people more knowledgeable than he.He is a leader who has been advised about the progress, has given constructive feed back to his advisers and they go forward. Sure Gov. McCrory has signed off on it as a starting point. I hope all the ponds are cleansed, the coal plants demolished and replaced by solar, wind, nuclear powered electrical sources.

  • Kenny Dunn Jun 5, 2014
    user avatar

    I know it will take time to implement but the state must determine the standards and timelines for any cleanup. Then Duke must be held to these. Then new guidelines & standards for any new sites need to be established and closely monitored. The problem, as always, is that this will cost the state money just to do their side of the work. There is not much appetite in the GA for spending on anything.

  • Milton Bailey Jun 5, 2014
    user avatar

    More of our government looking out for us; first fast track Fracking to pollute the ground water and the next day allow DE to do as they please with their polluting ash ponds, some have already polluted one creek; what is the next waterway to be polluted by DE? With the blessing of our dear Governor.