The state’s new Coal Ash Management Commission was given two tasks when the legislature created it this summer: determine which coal ash sites should be closed first, and approve the plans to close them.
There is no blueprint for how to go about this. And the day before the commission’s first meeting, the governor sued to remove two-thirds of its members, contending the legislature overstepped its authority by appointing a majority of the entity.
Despite that inauspicious start, Michael Jacobs, the chairman of the commission, isn’t waiting around for the bureaucrats and lawyers to sort things out. On the job since last month, he has already found office space – at the state National Guard headquarters in Raleigh – and begun to hire staff.
Jacobs, founder of a capital investment firm in Chapel Hill and an MBA professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, has hired a former student, Natalie Birdwell, as executive director. She has a background in the energy industry and recently worked at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the zoos, parks, museums and aquariums section.
He’s also hired parttime legal counsel, Lisa Schneider, former counsel to the state treasurer and a one-time assistant attorney general in the environmental division.
Jacobs is working on hiring three more people: an engineer, community relations and administrative. And he says he needs additional experts in groundwater, dams and other specialties. Jacobs figures the new commission and staff will spend the next year getting up to speed on the coal ash issue, while waiting for Duke Energy and DENR to submit test results so the sites can be prioritized.
He has planned bi-monthly meetings at university campuses around the state.
Money for all this comes from a $630,000 first-year budget financed through a utility fee on Duke Energy dedicated strictly to coal ash oversight and shared with DENR. So far this year, the fee plus interest has amounted to close to $900,000.
And the chairman has found time to get a website up and running: www.camc.nc.gov.
Jacobs was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory.