Democrats plan coal ash bill

Posted by Craig Jarvis on March 13, 2014 

Democrats on Thursday previewed a coal-ash bill they will introduce in the short session that begins in May.

The proposal echoes some of the public sentiment that has surfaced since the Feb. 2 spill into the Dan River in Rockingham County, such as closing all coal ash ponds and making the utility – not ratepayers – pick up the cost. It also would restore funding so the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has enough staff to monitor coal ash sites, and repeal a recent law that relaxed groundwater pollution restrictions.

Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat who represents an area in Caswell County where the Dan River crosses, expressed optimism that the bill in some form could pick up bipartisan support.

The coal ash ponds are in Democratic and Republican districts, he pointed out. The spill near Eden was in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s town, and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, Republican from Hendersonville, has said he would support a coal-ash bill of some sort.

“Frankly, I welcome them with open arms,” Woodard said. “It’s easily a bipartisan issue.”

It’s also an issue that Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, has unsuccessfully tried to accomplish every year since 2009. But she will try again with this newest version.

The bill would:

• Require Duke Energy to close and move all of its 33 coal-ash ponds at 14 plants into safe, lined and dry storage away from water sources. It would specify that Duke’s proposal to only cap the ponds is insufficient.

• Direct Duke Energy to provide a clean-up plan for the Dan River spill, which the state has already ordered it to do.

• Direct Duke to pay for the cost of cleanup at all of its plants, and not pass that cost along to ratepayers.

• Prohibit putting any additional ash into the coal ash ponds.

• Establish standards for closing the ponds, including monitoring them.

• Establish standards for new utility-owned lined landfills.

• Repeal a provision in last year’s regulatory overhaul bill (HB74) that allowed companies to have contaminated groundwater up to their property line however large that might be. The new bill would set the testing boundary at 500 feet. It also limits DENR’s authority to contain contamination at waste disposal facilities.

• Restore funding to DENR at a level allowing adequate monitoring of coal ash sites.

• Direct the Environmental Review Commission to study the safety of using coal ash in fill dirt in construction sites, road beds, agricultural fields and other manufactured products.

Seven legislators, representing the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, presented the proposal at a news conference in the Legislative Building.

Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, also called on Gov. Pat McCrory, Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis to take a more active stand on the coal ash issue.

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