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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.

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Coal AshThe North Carolina House passed a weakened version of the already inadequate Senate coal ash plan today and environmental experts quickly labeled the legislation as wholly inadequate.

Here’s the rather measured statement from the folks at the NC Sierra Club:

“After weeks of expectation and speculation, the House missed the opportunity to build on the Senate’s good start and to address key shortcomings in the legislation. Under Speaker Tillis’ leadership, the House failed to make the final set of changes needed to give North Carolinians the protection they deserve from Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash.

There are no clear requirements in this legislation to ensure it does what it’s intended to do: remove the threat of coal ash to all our waters, and all our communities.

Not only does the bill fail to add protections missing from the Senate version of the bill, but it appears to undermine a recent court ruling stemming from a citizen suit that would require Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of its groundwater contamination.

North Carolinians’ right to clean water has been under threat by coal ash for decades. As lawmakers try to settle their differences on this bill in conference committee, communities are counting on them to protect their families and water.”

Meanwhile, activists at NC WARN — which has battled Duke Energy for years over myriad issues — were even more pointed: Read More

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Before leaving for the July 4th holiday, the NC House is expected to give final approval Thursday to a revised plan to clean-up North Carolina’s coal ash sites.

The legislation would require Duke Energy to remove the ash from four high-risk sites by 2019. Low-risk ponds would be targeted for closure by 2029.  Critics note the bill also would create an avenue for Duke to extend those deadlines, with the approval of the from the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Rep. Nathan Baskerville sought to amend the bill making it clear any clean-up costs would fall on Duke Energy, not its customers.

“Growing up, I was always taught that if you break it, you buy it,” said the Vance County Democrat. “There’s no doubt about it, Duke has broken it and now they have to pay. Period.”

Baskerville’s amendment was tabled.

Carteret County Rep. Pat McElraft told her colleagues that the state should take a step back and accept much of the blame for the current crisis, having granted Duke the permits for locating the ash ponds.

Final approval in the House on Thursday will send the bill back to the Senate for concurrence. To hear part of Wednesday’s House debate, click below.  Watch the full session at WRAL.com.
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Coal AshLest anyone have the impression that the coal ash clean-up plan adopted in the Senate yesterday takes care of all of the problems and inadequacies in the Governor’s proposal, be sure to check out this list compiled by the experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Though certainly an improvement (the Sierra Club calls it “a good job of setting out a clear timeline for coal ash clean up”), the Senate plan still leaves more than a quarter of the state’s population unprotected. As the SELC folks report:

“The current N.C. Senate Coal Ash Bill would leave at risk about 2.6 million people who rely on drinking water intakes downstream from ten leaking Duke Energy coal ash sites not required to be cleaned up under the bill. These ten leaking coal ash sites are contaminating groundwater, rivers and lakes near communities across North Carolina.

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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.