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Advocates, experts: Coal ash compromise legislation falls short

Coal ashPeople who know the score are not displaying a lot of enthusiasm about the coal ash bill that will be run through he House Rules Committee this morning. As the website Coal Ash Chronicles noted yesterday:

“[C]losing” a coal ash pond and “cleaning up” a coal ash pond or spill … those are totally different things. The first option leaves coal ash where it is alongside the state’s waterways — which flow into your house and businesses — and the second moves the coal ash away from the water to either be landfilled or repurposed.”

The experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center issued this statement early last evening on behalf of an array of concerned environmental advocates:

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution.

All communities deserve to have water supplies protected from the toxic threat of coal ash by moving coal ash to dry, lined storage away from our waterways.

All of Duke Energy’s coal ash disposal sites pollute groundwater, and existing law in North Carolina requires “immediate action to eliminate the source of contamination” at these sites. Politicians inserted language into Senate Bill 729 that guts existing law and undermines citizens groups’ ongoing efforts to ensure real cleanup of these polluting sites under existing law.

As Duke Energy sought previously through its proposed sweetheart settlement deal with the state, the bill gives Duke Energy amnesty for its leaking coal ash dams. Rather than requiring Duke to fix its leaking dams, S 729 would let the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shield Duke by authorizing uncontrolled discharges of contaminated wastewater into our rivers and lakes. Granting this responsibility to an agency with a history of putting the interests of Duke Energy over the public is a prescription for failure.

The legislature should require Duke Energy to clean up its leaking coal ash dams, and not allow DENR to paper over Duke Energy’s pollution.

Any bill written to weaken North Carolina’s protections against coal ash pollution is alarming given the recent disaster at Duke Energy’s Dan River facility and frequent promises from our elected representatives that this bill would protect citizens of North Carolina.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizens groups in various court cases to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution across North Carolina: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

5 Comments

  1. Rocketman

    August 20, 2014 at 11:31 am

    You don’t have to believe this is a perfect coal ash bill to acknowledge that there is a lot more to it than SELC’s comments suggest. If you read the bill, you will find that it requires a number of things not currently required under state or federal law — a transition from wet to dry ash handling; a schedule for final closure of all of coal ash impoundments; new and stricter standards for disposing of coal ash and for use of coal as structural fill in construction projects; etc. It is also somewhat misleading to say the bill only requires 4 facilities to remove coal ash and allows the remaining 10 facilities to cap the coal ash in place. How many of the remaining 10 can be capped in place will depend on risk ranking of those impoundments by DENR and the new Coal Ash Management Commission; only low risk impoundments would be eligible for a “cap in place” closure. The conference report adds language that only allows capping in place even at low risk impoundments if there are measures in place to insure coal ash will not be a continuing source of groundwater pollution after capping. Whether you think all of that is sufficient or not, it is a long way from just “gutting” existing law.

  2. Kenneth Glick

    August 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Our state legislature isn’t the only one dropping the ball when it comes to common sense regulations that protect the environment against coal ash pits. The EPA under Obama hasn’t done anything either in regards to regulating the problem which clearly falls under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

  3. ncsense

    August 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    You don’t have to believe this is a perfect coal ash bill to acknowledge that there is a lot more to it than SELC’s comments suggest. If you read the bill, you will find that it requires a number of things not currently required under state or federal law — a transition from wet to dry ash handling; a schedule for final closure of all of coal ash impoundments; new and stricter standards for disposing of coal ash and for use of coal ash as structural fill in construction projects; etc. It is also somewhat misleading to say the bill only requires 4 facilities to remove coal ash and allows the remaining 10 facilities to cap the coal ash in place. How many of the remaining 10 can be capped in place will depend on risk ranking of those impoundments by DENR and the new Coal Ash Management Commission; only low risk impoundments would be eligible for a “cap in place” closure. The conference report also adds language that only allows capping in place if there are measures to insure coal ash will not be a continuing source of groundwater pollution after capping. Whether you think all of that is sufficient or not, it is a long way from just “gutting” existing law.

  4. Brian

    August 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Uhh, Rocketman & ncsense screwed up and posted the same thing word for word – pretty clear these comments were written by industry and part of an orchastrated campaign to defend this weak law

  5. Rob Schofield

    August 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Good catch Brian. It’s been clear to us that the same two or three troubled souls have been posting hostile comments on the Pulse under different identities for some time. It’s emblematic that there’s almost always less there than meets there on the far right.