A day after yesterday’s disappointing but expected approval by Gov. McCrory of a new law to fast-track fracking in North Carolina, the General Assembly moves on to another critical environmental issue today — coal ash. The good folks at the Sierra Club issued the following statement about today’s 9:30 a.m. meeting:
“On Thursday, June 5, the Senate Committee on Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources will discuss S 729, the Governor’s Coal Ash Action Plan. The plan, which drew widespread criticism for not going far enough when announced, has been referenced as a starting point by the Senate….
Public outcry for addressing our state’s coal ash crisis came immediately after 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in Rockingham County on February 2. The spill, which was the third largest coal ash spill ever in the United States, put a spotlight on a threat that has existed for decades.
Duke operates 14 facilities in North Carolina with leaky unlined coal ash pits, located next to rivers and lakes, all of which are contaminating groundwater. 1.5 million North Carolinians rely on drinking water sources downstream of these leaking, toxic coal ash pits.
How to best remove the coal ash from unlined pits next to our waterways will likely be part of the discussion tomorrow as the legislature looks for ways to strengthen the Governor’s plan.
Specific items that should be considered for strengthening the Governor’s plan include:
- Standards for the future disposal or reuse of coal ash are missing. Wet ash handling should be phased out by a date certain and replaced with dry ash technology.
- Guidelines for prioritization: the bill calls for closure of all the coal ash ponds but does not provide guidance on how DENR should set priorities for closure.
- Equal treatment for all communities with coal ash pits, all of which are leaking. The bill identifies only 4 plants (Riverbend, Asheville, Dan River, and Sutton) where the coal ash would be “moved to lined structural fill, lined landfill, or an alternative disposition approved by the Department”. This leaves out the other 10 coal-fired power plants – and communities – where coal ash ponds are located.
- Removal of the source of contamination from all coal ash ponds. The bill identifies capping in place as an option. Capping in place is an inadequate method of closure that leaves coal ash and other wastes in place, in unlined pits, covered with a cap of soil or other material.”
Let’s hope the action of state leaders on coal ash isn’t as shortsighted and tone deaf as their action on fracking. Cause for optimism, however, seem limited.