Under the Dome

August 18, 2014

Rep. Grier Martin says GOP delaying coal-ash clean-up until elections over

Democratic NC Rep. Grier Martin claims North Carolina Republican leaders delayed cleaning up a coal-ash spill until after the November elections to avoid voter wrath.

Democratic lawmaker Grier Martin received an honorary plaque from the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, carved from North Carolina cherry wood, and then blasted Republicans for putting off Duke Energy’s coal-ash cleanup until after the November elections.

In the final week of the legislative short session before lawmakers depart Raleigh, Grier bemoaned that lawmakers could not come up with an agreement this summer on cleaning up Duke’s coal ash storage sites at 14 facilities statewide.

He blamed the delay on Republican leaders, and said putting off the issue until after the November elections is calculated to avoid voter wrath for adopting a weak state policy. The state House and Senate both passed legislation but the two chambers reached an impasse on details and it’s unclear whether the issue will be taken up again this year.

The House and Senate could revisit it in November if the House approves an adjournment resolution allowing for an additional session.

Developing a strategy for dealing with coal ash became one of the legislature’s top stated priorities in the aftermath of the February spill that dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

“There is no debate that there has been a failure on the coal-ash front,” said Martin, a Wake County lawyer and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. “If we need an extra week, an extra two weeks, or an extra three weeks to get it done, let’s put that work in.”

Charlotte-based Duke has vowed to clean up the Dan River spill at its own expense. But the power company expects the cost of dealing with coal ash lagoons will be passed on to customers as an environmental compliance cost necessary for the generation of electricity.

Environmentalists want Duke shareholders to pay for modernizing the lagoons, and the cost will depend on how they are managed. Hauling all the ash to double-lined landfills could cost $10 billion, Duke has warned.

Meanwhile, the lagoons, ponds and pits are leaching contaminants into underground drinking water sources and are the subject of a lawsuits filed by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Duke has already vowed to shut down several lagoons and move the coal ash to double-lined landfills, the least expensive solution because most of the waste would stay where it is. Company officials believe many of the lagoons can be “de-watered” and covered with a tarp, a strategy environmental activists say will not stop the groundwater contamination.

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