NC Capitol

NC Capitol

Weekly Wrap: Environment takes center stage

Posted December 1, 2017 7:23 p.m. EST

— From coal ash cleanup to contaminants in the water to a controversial resignation, environmental issues topped the headlines for the week.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission began its hearing into how much of a rate increase to allow Duke Energy Progress to charge customers in eastern North Carolina. Part of Duke's requested increase would pay for cleanup of its ash pits at coal-fired power plants. The company says customers have benefited for decades from cheap power from the plants and should bear the cost of the state mandate to now clean up the ash pits, but opponents maintain Duke shareholders have been the main beneficiary of cheap power because customer bills repeatedly went up as power generation costs remained low.

A legislative oversight committee met again Thursday to discuss unregulated chemicals in the state's waterways, and some leading lawmakers said the General Assembly needs to take action sooner rather than later on the issue.

Former Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart resigned Monday, a few weeks after he had been placed on leave by DEQ officials. While current officials said he had crossed the line by publicly complaining about a program overseen by the agency, compromising DEQ's integrity, van der Vaart said Gov. Roy Cooper's administration was "stifling" his viewpoint because it doesn't jibe with theirs.

Outside of the environment, several new state laws took effect on Friday, including regulations on drones, and the special master appointed by the federal court to draft legislative maps in an ongoing lawsuit submitted his final proposals.