Last-minute change delays passage of coal ash bill

Senators say they want to make sure a provision in a measure regarding coal ash cleanup that provides drinking water to homeowners whose wells were fouled by ash ponds works as planned.

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Coal ash basin
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Senate has delayed passage of a bill that would reconstitute a commission designed to oversee coal ash cleanup in the state, but the chamber expects to pass the measure next week over the objections of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Procedurally, the Senate failed to concur with the House bill, meaning that members of both chambers will have to meet to hammer out a compromise version. That work should be quick, said Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. Both chambers could give final approval to the measure on Tuesday.

"There's one problematic amendment we need to look at," Apodaca said.

That amendment, by Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, deals with a feature of the bill designed to ensure that homeowners whose wells have been contaminated by nearby coal ash ponds will be provided with a permanent clean water supply. In most cases, that would be a connection to a nearby municipal water system.

"We wanted to make sure everyone concerned was covered," Apodaca said.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, confirmed there was a drafting error in the Millis amendment that sponsors wanted to correct. The intent of the amendment, McGrady said, was to ensure that people who were affected in the future by the coal ash pollution could also get hooked into public water.

The delay was not prompted, Apodaca said, by any impulse to compromise with McCorry, who has threatened to veto the bill. In addition to requiring that Duke Energy provide water to affected homeowners, the bill reconstitutes the Coal Ash Management Commissions and two other panels designed to oversee regulatory tasks.

Those panels were the subject of a state Supreme Court decision that said lawmakers had stacked the panels with legislative appointments. The executive branch, the court said, needs to be able to control appointments to commissions exercising executive powers.

Lawmakers gave the governor five of seven appointments on the Coal Ash Management Commission but made those appointments subject to legislative confirmation. The bill also limits the reason commission members can be removed. McCrory said those are unconstitutional hurdles to his oversight of the group.

"This bill is a blatant attempt to bypass state regulators and seek more favorable treatment from an unaccountable and unneeded bureaucracy that further delays the cleanup process," McCrory said Wednesday.

The state House passed the measure 86-25.

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