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Butterfield-and-PriceAs state legislators work to craft a plan to address the future use and disposal of coal ash, a group of congressmen is pushing the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact stricter standards and enforcement of the toxic substance.

Congressmen G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) and David Price (NC-04) write in a letter released to the media Wednesday that the EPA must finalize “strong federal standards for the safe disposal of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by the end of 2014.”

Here’s an excerpt from their letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

Major coal ash spills in 2014 into the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee are examples of full impoundment failures and show that our constituents must be better protected.  Both spills originated from wet coal ash impoundments located near power plants adjacent to rivers where the failure of impoundment walls sent harmful chemicals directly into the waterways.  The Dan River spill caused coal ash to travel 70 miles downstream and the Kingston spill caused more than one billion gallons of coal ash to enter the water supply and destroyed residential communities.  The EPA has evaluated wet coal ash impoundments across the country and found more than 300 sites which would endanger human life, or cause significant economic, environmental, or infrastructure damage if full failures occurred.

Far more common than full impoundment failure is the slow leaching of coal ash contaminants from wet impoundments into ground and surface waters.  The majority of wet impoundments across the country lack adequate liners and groundwater monitoring systems.  The EPA has identified more than 200 cases of water contamination from coal ash in 27 states.

It appears we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities.  It is troubling that it has taken large coal ash spills like those in North Carolina and Tennessee to mobilize stakeholders to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes to mitigate those hazards.  Those catastrophes could have been avoided and we owe it to all Americans to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future.

The letter is cosigned by 83 members of Congress.

Earlier today at the NC General Assembly, the Senate Appropriations committee gave its approval to Senate Bill 729, the state’s plan for managing coal ash.

A Senate committee reviewed a coal ash clean-up bill yesterday and afterwards, the experts and advocates at the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club responded with a lukewarm review:

“NC Sierra Club Statement on the NC Senate’s Coal Ash Bill

RALEIGH – This afternoon the NC Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources held an information-only hearing on the Senate’s coal ash bill that takes the place of the Governor’s proposal.

Upon the Senate’s actions, Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director of the NC Sierra Club issued the following statement:

‘The Senate did well to create ambitious timelines for closure of coal ash pits in the state. However, closure standards with safeguards to ensure that coal ash is permanently separated from water are lacking in the bill.’

‘This bill lacks guidance Read More

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.”

Read More

Coal ash clean upA 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. Read More

This morning’s Greensboro News & Record gets it just about right with an editorial entitled “Just the essentials.”

“The legislature’s ‘short’ session convenes today with one essential purpose: to make adjustments to the second year of the biennial state budget.

There’s other work that needs to be done, and some things that should not be done.

In the first category:

* Pay raises for teachers.

Gov. Pat McCrory outlined his proposal last week. It includes substantial raises in starting salaries and for teachers in the first few years of their careers. More experienced teachers also would see increases. The legislature should flesh out and approve a plan to improve teacher compensation and simultaneously revoke its ill-conceived directive for school systems to designate one-fourth of eligible teachers to receive bonuses if they surrender their tenure rights.

* Stricter coal ash regulation.

The massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden in February alarmed politicians of both parties who had ignored the issue of safe storage for years. Now is the time to set Duke Energy on a course of corrective action and put in place new regulations to protect water.

* Medicaid expansion.

Last year’s decision to reject federal funding to broaden eligibility left an estimated 300,000 or more residents without health care coverage. The legislature should correct this mistake.

* Preschool enrollment.

The legislature last year directed stronger efforts for schools to make sure children can read by the end of third grade but didn’t grant additional resources to get the job done. One way is to pay for more at-risk 4-year-olds to attend prekindergarten programs.

Now, what the legislature should not do…

Click here to read the rest of the editorial.