UPDATED: Gov. Pat McCrory visited the blackened Dan River in Eden on Thursday to get a first-hand look at the third worst coal ash spills in the nation’s history. It came just as the leader of the N.C. Senate called for a legislative inquiry into two recent spills into North Carolina rivers.
McCrory’s office said the governor was scheduled to receive a briefing on the spill but instead decided to visit the site himself. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla and other state environmental officials joined him.
“This is a serious spill and we need to get it under control as quickly as possible,” McCrory said in a statement after his visit. “Our top priorities are ensuring the health and safety of the public as well as the wildlife in the Dan River vicinity and the river itself, and the best way to do that is to get this controlled and cleaned up.”
McCrory said his environmental agency has been at the site since they were notified. “We will continue to be here on-site throughout the cleanup efforts and subsequent investigation of this incident,” he said. “We need to make sure this never happens again in North Carolina.”
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McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive, made a point of mention that his administration is pushing a legal complaint against the company related to wastewater discharge from 14 of its coal ash ponds. The lawsuits are pending. “My administration is the first in North Carolina history to take legal action against the utility regarding coal ash ponds,” McCrory said in the statement. “We have been moving on this issue since the beginning of my term and will continue to do so.”
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who represents Eden, wants the General Assembly’s Environmental Review Commission to investigate the spill in which Duke Energy’s released more than 100 million pounds of coal ash into the Dan River. He also wants an inquiry into the city of Burlington’s spill of 3.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the Haw River.
“I am also very concerned about the quality and timeliness of the responses of everyone involved,” he wrote in a letter to the commission’s legislative leaders. He requested that both events be discussed at next Wednesday’s meeting.
The release didn’t further specify Berger’s concerns, but environmentalists and downstream communities have floated a raft of criticisms after the two spills. In the wake of coal-ash spill, which has continued for five days, environmentalists have called for the closing of the ponds where the material is kept.
After the Burlington sewage spill, an academic expert and recreational users of the river have said they wanted earlier notification about the spill. Public notice for the Haw spill came the day after the three-day spill ended; public notice for the Dan spill came a day after it began. State law allows 48 hours after water is contaminated for public disclosure in both cases.
Berger has a stake in both rivers. He represents the site of the retired coal power-plant whose coal-ash spilled. He also represents Guilford County, which borders the city of Burlington, and has been involved in the debate over environmental rules for the Haw River and its reservoir in the Triangle, Jordan Lake.