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McCrory won't sign, veto coal ash bill

Posted September 9, 2014 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2014 4:06 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Pat McCrory announced Tuesday afternoon he'll allow legislation to clean up coal ash in North Carolina to become law without his signature.

The proposal was the topic of tense debate last month between House and Senate leaders, who sent the governor a compromise plan in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. 

According to a statement released by McCrory's office late Tuesday, the governor supports "continued action" on the clean up, but he has concerns about the constitutionality of the oversight commission created by the legislation. The majority of members on that independent panel will be appointed by state lawmakers, not the governor. 

"While there are great pieces to this legislation, there are major deficiencies that need to be corrected,” McCrory said in the statement.

“One of the major shortcomings is the formation of another unchecked, non-judicial commission that reports to no one, has no accountability and adds another level of unneeded bureaucracy. That’s no way to run an efficient government. The Legislature’s duty is to draft and pass laws, not execute them. That is the executive branch’s duty,” he continued.   

McCrory said he will seek an advisory opinion from the North Carolina Supreme Court to "clarify the constitutional issue" but wishes to "avoid a prolonged legal challenge." If the court doesn't provide guidance, however, the statement says, his administration will pursue a lawsuit. 

The governor also cited other operational and funding problems with the proposal.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger expressed irritation at McCrory's position but said he was glad the proposal would soon become law.

"The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer," Berger said in a statement.

McCrory worked for Duke Energy, which owns the ash ponds, for nearly 30 years before he was elected governor.

"Keeping the commission separate from the agency that regulates coal ash is not only constitutional, it is a wise policy choice," Berger said. "For nearly 150 years, North Carolina’s state constitution has given the General Assembly the right to make appointments to independent commissions. That right has been affirmed by our state Supreme Court since the 1800s and has long been the basis for legislative appointments and elections to a variety of boards and commissions."

Earlier in 2014, McCrory unveiled his own coal ash clean up proposal, but lawmakers initially said it was too weak.

“Most of the plan that passed the Legislature last month mirrored our plan closely, and there are numerous good points to the legislation, including closing loopholes made by the actions of previous legislatures and governors," the statement reads. "It makes North Carolina the national leader in acknowledging and attacking the coal ash problem that has been building for more than half a century. I will let this bill become law because the positive parts of the legislation need to be implemented as soon as possible.”

Late last month, McCrory told NCSpin he was likely to sign the bill, despite his constitutional concerns.

The bill arrived on the governor's desk on Aug. 20. Under state law, the governor has 30 days from the date the legislature adjourns to decide whether to sign or veto a bill. It will become law Sept. 19 if he takes no action in it.

North Carolina's gubernatorial veto power is different from that of the U.S. president. If the president doesn't sign a bill, it does not become law. That's known as a pocket veto. North Carolina's governor doesn't have a pocket veto. If he or she doesn't sign a bill within the time allotted by statute, it becomes law anyway.