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One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

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On the final day of the “short session” both the House and Senate gave approval to a compromise plan that sets the wheels in motion to begin cleaning-up North Carolina’s 33 unlined coal ash pits.

Approval of the Coal Ash Management Act came 200 days after a major spill at a former Duke Energy power plant that dumped 40,000 tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River.

During Wednesday’s House debate, Rep. Nathan Baskerville argued the compromise plan did not go far enough. The Vance County Democrat noted that the Supreme Court sided with Duke Energy in its latest rate hike case, and that lawmakers should spell out that this clean-up would not end up costing consumers more.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, one of the key negotiators on the bill, reminded his colleagues this was just the first step:

“This is Coal Ash One. There’s going to be a Coal Ash Two,” explained the Henderson County Republican. “We’ve gotta get going, and this bill gets us going.”

Rep. Rick Glazier, who also worked on the compromise language, said the end product – while not perfect – was far stronger than House or Senate versions of the bill previously passed.

“The bill mandates all facilities be designated as high, intermediate or low risk and that all high risk ponds be sealed and closed in 5 years, intermediate in 10, and low risk in 15 years, with a critical new provision that assures no low risk facility may be simply capped in place if the coal ash residuals interact in any substantial manner with subsurface water,” wrote Glazier in a press release.

Senate Bill 729 passed the House 84-13, and won Senate approval 38-2. The bill now heads to Governor McCrory’s desk.

To hear some of the coal ash debate on the House floor, click below.

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fergusonA North Carolina teacher has started a crowd sourcing effort to raise money for food banks in the St. Louis area, after schools in Ferguson, Missouri closed as a result of the unrest following the shooting death of unarmed teenager Mike Brown by a police officer.

Julianna Mendelsohn, who teaches at a school in Bahama in Durham County, started the cause #FeedFerguson Aug. 14 on the fundraising website Fundly, and more than $130,000 had been raised as of midday Wednesday.

She was concerned about children attending Ferguson schools who depend on the school’s free and reduced meals to eat.

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Duke EnergyAs the General Assembly debates a coal ash bill that many say lets Duke Energy off the hook, the Supreme Court today approved a rate hike for Duke Energy customers.

Justice Barbara Jackson wrote the opinion for the unanimous court, holding this:

In this case we consider whether the order of the North Carolina Utilities Commission authorizing a 10.2% return on equity for Duke Energy Progress contained sufficient findings of fact to demonstrate that it was supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence in view of the entire record. Because we conclude that the Commission made sufficient findings of fact regarding the impact of changing economic conditions upon customers, we affirm.

Read the court’s full opinion here.

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Supreme CourtGov. Pat McCrory announced today that he’ll appoint current Court of Appeals Judge R.N. “Bob” Hunter, Jr. to fill Justice Mark Martin’s seat on the Supreme Court. Martin will take Chief Justice Sarah Parker’s spot on Sept. 1,  following her retirement.

Hunter, who has served on the Court of Appeals since 2008, will take his seat on the Supreme Court on Sept. 6.

Here’s an excerpt from the Governor’s statement:

As a lawyer who practiced for 35 years and as a current judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Judge Hunter has the experience and integrity needed to serve on North Carolina’s Supreme Court .I am confident that Judge Hunter will continue to serve our state to the best of his legal abilities and with the highest of ethical standards.

Both Martin and Hunter will be running in November to retain those seats.

Martin is facing off against Brunswick County Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis, and Hunter is running against his colleague on the Court of Appeals, Sam Ervin IV.