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Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400You know…the day that North Carolinians can finally say adieu to the 170 members of the 2013-14 General Assembly? As has almost always been the case with the current crop of state lawmakers, the signals are mixed and confusing.

News reports this morning indicate that even as legislative leaders  look for ways to append a badly needed fix onto the terribly flawed budget that was just passed a few days ago, they’re once again playing political games with each other and the citizenry.  If this is how things end — with a critical provision to help schools made contingent upon a new corporate giveaway scheme — it will be a fitting conclusion to a remarkably ineffective and discombobulated session.

As Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono notes this morning:

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the N.C. legislature comes to the end of its long short session in a squabble over how and when to end it. It hasn’t mattered much that the Republicans are in charge of everything – the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. GOP infighting and House vs. Senate power plays – along with a little muscle-flexing or attempts at it by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff – have been constant backdrops during the session that began May 14.

In the plaintive words of Rodney King, paraphrased: Can’t they all just get along? Or at least agree to close down the shop and get out of town? And save us taxpayers the $50,000 a day it typically costs for them to be in session?

Of course, there’s a very good chance this will not be THE day. Having apparently failed to fashion a coal ash clean up plan in the more than six months that have passed since the Dan River disaster, the General Assembly may return yet again after the fall election for a rare “lame duck” session. If that happens, at least a couple of things appear to be certain:

1) It won’t be the first time the adjective “lame” will be used in the same sentence with the 2013-14 legislature and  2) Coal ash will be far from the only mess that will be left behind for future General Assemblies to clean up.

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VacationThere has been a lot of talk in recent years about how the North Carolina General Assembly is starting to look and sound more and more like Congress — especially when it comes to the influence of big dollars from corporate fat cats and plain old, general dysfunction.

Today, we got another persuasive indicator: Legislators announced plans to take an “August recess.” Oh, they may not be calling it that, but this morning’s news that House and Senate leaders plan to pass a FY2015 budget this week, adjourn temporarily and then come back in mid-August to deal with the coal ash crisis that’s been simmering for months — years, really — and then recess again and come back in November after the election signifies a change in how business gets done on Jones Street.

Traditionally, when North Carolina lawmakers conclude the second-year-in-the-biennium “short” session in early summer, they adjourn until the following January. This may not be the best set-up, but it does force lawmakers to wrap up their business and maintain the General Assembly’s status as a “part-time” legislature.

This new development is enough to make a body suspicious as to the motives of those behind it. Read More

State lawmakers may come together with a final budget bill this week, but environmentalists say there is plenty of work to do on a final coal ash management bill before legislators wrap-up the session.

Grady McCallie, policy director for the NC Conservation Network, says both the House and Senate versions of the coal ash bill (now in conference committee) are weaker than current law.

Click below to hear McCallie discuss the shortcomings in Senate Bill 729, and click here to hear his full 10 minute radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon.

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A new poll by Public Policy Polling commissioned by the NC League of Conservation Voters finds that 76% of voters surveyed think the General Assembly should require all coal ash ponds to be removed from waterways. Just 16% think they should be allowed to be capped and left in place.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled says they consider the environment be ‘very important’ in determining how they will vote in the next election.

To view the crosstabs on that poll, click here.

Coal AshSteve Harrison over at Blue NC has a good catch today in a post entitled “90% of coal ash remains in Dan River after Duke ‘completes’ cleanup.”

As Steve notes:

If this is what they call “success,” one would hate to see them fail:

“Since the operation began on May 6, approximately 2,500 tons of coal ash and river sediment have been removed from this location. Crews and equipment were staged at Abreu-Grogan Park in Danville for the past three months.

The company previously completed removal of ash and sediment from water treatment facilities in Danville and South Boston, as well as from locations in the river at the Dan River Steam Station and Town Creek, two miles downstream from the plant. More than 500 tons of coal ash and river sediment were removed from these areas.”

Do the math. A low-end estimate on the spill had some 39,000 tons of ash released, and this combined 3,000 tons removed included an unknown quantity of non-ash sediment. What’s left in the river could be closer to 95%. And the General Assembly wants to give Duke Energy “more flexibility” in the cleanup/relocation of all the other coal ash ponds?

The story to which the post links (in Dredging Today) goes on to make clear that Duke is really going all out with the cleanup efforts: Read More

Coal AshAs this morning’s “Monday Numbers” make clear, the coal ash clean-up legislation making its way through the General Assembly falls short in numerous ways. This statement from the League of Conservation Voters expands on this conclusion:

Legislative Watch: Not Good Enough on Coal Ash

“We could and should have done better for the citizens of North Carolina,” declared Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).

The N.C. House last week approved its version of SB 729, “Coal Ash Management Plan of 2014″, but the bill was not the significantly strengthened alternative that conservationists had been hoping to see. Instead, it continued to show the same major flaws found in the original Senate bill, plus one associated with its proposed new coal ash board:

• It fails to assign financial responsibility for cleanup to Duke Energy and its stockholders, leaving the likelihood that ratepayers will end up paying billions to correct Duke’s coal ash management errors.
• It allows coal ash pits to be “capped in place”, avoiding genuine cleanup and leaving groundwater and surface waters vulnerable to continued leaking and contamination.
• It fails to direct expeditious closure and cleanup of most coal ash pits, allowing long delays before corrective action.
• It authorizes a newly created Coal Ash Management Commission to delay cleanups and extend deadlines even further if it concludes that needed fixes are too expensive.

Read More