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Environmental group says no guarantee of cleanup in state Senate’s coal ash plan

State Senate leaders are unveiling their approach today to cleaning up the state’s hazardous coal-ash ponds, but a leading environmental group is already saying new legislation doesn’t go far enough.

The proposal will be discussed at a 3 p.m. committee hearing in Raleigh at the N.C. General Assembly.

The AP first reported last night that the Senate proposal (click here to read) would require Duke Energy to close its coal-ash dumps within 15 years, and WRAL had this wrap-up as well and a summary to the Senate proposal here.

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

But Frank Holleman, the attorney steering the Southern Environmental Law Center’s litigation over coal ash, said the Senate bill still defers many of the decisions to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. That, he said, could mean that Duke Energy could continue to get passes on cleaning up the toxic by-products found in 33 unlined pits at the electricity utility’s 14 coal-fired plants in the state.

All the pits have contaminated nearby groundwater, and environmental groups have criticized DENR’s reluctance before the February coal ash spill in the Dan River to demand cleanup.

“What North Carolina needs but is not done in this bill is a direct requirement that Duke clean up its coal ash,” Holleman said. “It leaves it to the failed state agency.”

The Senate plan, Holleman said, could allow Duke Energy to simply cap some of the unlined coal ash pits, a move that he says will continue to allow contaminants to seep into groundwater.

The Senate plan introduced by state Senate leader Phil Berger, who lives in Eden, and Sen. Tom Apodaca is a big departure from the proposal offered up by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, which environmentalists say didn’t have strong enough language to require cleanup.

Holleman said the Senate plan has closed some of those loopholes, but still would accept capping the ponds as a method for closing some of the lower-risk coal-ash pits.

“That’s the bottom line, is the community going to be protected from coal ash lagoons?,” Holleman said. “This bill does not do that.”

Charlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, maintains 33 coal-ash lagoons at 14 coal-powered electricity plants across North Carolina. A dam broke in February at a shuttered plant in Eden, sending more than 39,000 tons of toxic coal-ash sludge into the Dan River, one of the worst environmental disasters in North Carolina’s history.

A federal grand jury is looking into the relationship between DENR and Duke Energy, which has a powerful player in state politics for years and has contributed heavily to the campaigns of both Democratic and Republican state leaders.

McCrory, who worked for Duke for nearly 30 years and has appointed several former Duke executives to top state posts, has repeatedly said his prior employment with Duke won’t affect his administration’s oversight of the utility giant. Ethics forms show he recently sold at least $10,000 of his Duke Energy stock.

The state Senate is slated to discuss the coal-ash proposal at 3 p.m. today in room 643 in the Legislative Office Building. WRAL will be live-streaming the meeting here.

 

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