Point of view

Weak coal ash bill an affront to North Carolinians

July 7, 2014 

Environmental advocates who collectively speak for a large number of N.C. residents are outraged by the weakness of the proposed bill to address the state’s coal ash mess, its failure to protect residents and the mockery it is making of the Clean Water Act.

The bill has been touted as the first state-level legislation in the country to deal with toxic coal ash. As one state senator rightly noted, it would “set the standard for the rest of the country on coal ash.” Yet changes the N.C. House of Representatives has made to an already weak Senate bill would set the standard egregiously low.

In February, Duke Energy’s negligence thrust us into an unwanted national spotlight and debate over toxic coal ash when one of its facilities spilled tons and tons of ash into the Dan River – the third-largest such spill in U.S. history.

Millions of Americans concerned about clean water have been waiting to see how North Carolina would respond.

Back then, our elected leaders seemed eager to line up and promise cleanup and reform. Now, however, we see broken promises: Band-aid solutions that may sound good but do nothing to address the underlying wounds of coal-ash-contaminated water, grand rhetoric that serves only to buy a few votes and a general abdication of our elected officials’ obligation to uphold the public trust.

The current bill, SB 729, is rife with weakened timelines and eases cleanup requirements in favor of Duke Energy instead of demanding swift and comprehensive remediation of all polluting sites. The most concerning provisions of the bill would:

• Allow coal ash dumps to be left next to our waterways and without liners separating the ash from groundwater. North Carolina requires lined landfills for our household garbage. Why wouldn’t we require liners for all toxic coal ash pit?

• Grant extensions on cleanup dates and gives the Secretary of Natural Resources the power to grant extensions to any deadlines for a variety of reasons.

• Move the cleanup boundary and tries to excuse Duke Energy from its obligation to clean up the source of its groundwater pollution.

• Give the governor power to appoint the chairman of the proposed coal ash commission of political appointees and does not include representatives of affected communities on that commission.

• Invalidate local ordinances that prohibit or regulate coal ash and coal ash products. Since the Dan River spill, nine cities or counties have passed resolutions calling for the proper cleanup of coal ash, and another 12 are in the process of drafting resolutions.

• Allow Duke to pass the costs of cleanup to its North Carolina customers. According to a recent poll, 91 percent of North Carolinians say Duke and its shareholders should bear the cost of the cleanup at all its facilities. The wishes of the people are clear.

If the current bill passes, our elected leaders would be saying to North Carolina residents and the rest of the country is that we don’t care about our water quality. We don’t care about the voices or the health of our communities. We care about corporate interests, not public interests.

Amy Adams, a former N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources manager, is a coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

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