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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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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The NC General Assembly reconvenes for the 2014 short session today with budget adjustments, teacher pay, and coal ash disposal topping the legislators’ to-do list.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue told reporters Tuesday as lawmakers discuss a plan for coal ash disposal, it’s also time for lawmakers to revisit the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and whether the agency has the sufficient  personnel and authority to address the current disposal crisis.

“Given the push over the last couple years, DENR is shorthanded to handle some of these crises. So part of a solution in this session as we come up with solutions to the coal ash  crisis, is to re-examine what the regulatory authority ought to look like and how many people ought to be doing it. And it’s not rocket science,” said Sen. Blue on Tuesday.

Governor McCrory will be pushing his own coal ash plan this session, a plan that has irked some key legislators within his own party.

Earlier this week Duke Energy began the process of cleaning up some of the 39,000 tons of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River back in February.

For more from Tuesday’s press conference, click below:

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