Bill might require quicker public notice of pollution spills

Posted by Craig Jarvis on March 12, 2014 

State lawmakers might require the public be notified more quickly whenever there are spills of pollution into waterways, such as the coal ash discharge into the Dan River and a sewage leak into the Haw River earlier this year.

The Environmental Review Commission, comprised of state legislators, could draft a bill requiring the owner or operator responsible for a wastewater spill of more than 1,000 gallons to report it to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources within 24 hours of discovering it.

It’s unclear if the law currently requires state regulators be notified, a committee staffer told legislators Tuesday. Current law requires the owner/operator put out a news release within 48 hours.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a committee member and Democrat from Greensboro, asked if the reporting deadline could be immediately upon discovering the spill, to warn the public. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican who is co-chairwoman of the committee, said that’s open for discussion.

That bill could come to the committee at its April meeting, in time to be presented to the full General Assembly in May. Or, the committee could hold a special meeting before the session begins.

Whether that will be the only action the legislature takes in response to the massive coal ash spill – which has triggered a federal criminal investigation and state pressure on Duke Energy to clean up all of its ash basins – remains to be seen. The committee wants to see the report that Duke is supposed to make to the state by Saturday on how it intends to respond to the threat of future spills.

“We are eager to do whatever we need to do,” Samuelson said. “For now we want to make sure we’re not just reacting, but prudently gathering information from everybody who has an interest.”

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