Under the Dome

New coal ash bill would avoid veto override

Neighbors call for probe of state’s lifting of do-not-drink notice on wells near coal ash ponds

Deborah Graham of Salisbury at a news conference calling for probe of state's lifting of do-not-drink notice of private wells near coal ash ponds.
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Deborah Graham of Salisbury at a news conference calling for probe of state's lifting of do-not-drink notice of private wells near coal ash ponds.

A standoff over coal ash between Gov. Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans in the legislature may be headed for a resolution without lawmakers overrriding the governor’s veto.

Legislators said Thursday they are working with McCrory on a new coal ash bill that would make an override unnecessary and would speed up the state’s response to environmental and health concerns.

The dispute is over the best way to clean up coal ash basins and connect neighboring well owners with municipal drinking water. Conflicting notices from state officials about whether or not the well water is safe to drink have added to the tensions.

“We need a permanent solution that is not in the form of a 20-ounce bottle,” said Amy Brown, a neighbor of the Allen Steam Plant in Gaston County who has been advocating for piped city water. “This has gone on far too long. Every day that people in Raleigh are having private meetings is one more day we’re living with this uncertain future and contaminated water.”

Senate leader Phil Berger announced Thursday he doesn’t expect an override attempt. Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Hendersonville and the author of the bill, said he will be working with the Senate and administration on a new bill this weekend.

They are trying to address the governor’s concerns about retaining executive-branch authority, hook up several hundred households to city water as soon as possible and avoid protracted legal proceedings.

Well owners have grown increasingly frustrated at how long the process has taken. Duke Energy has provided them with bottled water for more than a year, although there is no definite connection between the coal plants and elevated levels of contaminants in groundwater.

On Wednesday, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good met with Senate leaders at the legislative buildling. Berger’s spokeswoman Shelly Carver on Thursday described the meeting in an emailed statement.

“The purpose of the meeting was to inform Duke it is unlikely the Senate will act on the company’s request to override the governor’s veto, and that we are working with the governor on a resolution that addresses his concerns, avoids a long legal battle and delivers clean drinking water to impacted individuals quickly,” Carver said.

The pending resolution is in contrast to what appeared last week to be a swift and certain course. Over McCrory’s warnings, the legislature overwhelmingly approved the bill with enough votes to sustain an override, the governor vetoed it and said he would take the conflict to court if overridden. McCrady had said the House expected to take an override vote on Wednesday.

Duke Energy is aligned with the legislature and against the governor in supporting Senate Bill 71. The bill would reconstitute the Coal Ash Management Commission, which McCrory disbanded after the state Supreme Court ruled the legislature overstepped its authority in creating it.

The utility prefers to have a commission review recommendations by the McCrory administration on the closure and cleanup of Duke’s coal ash ponds around the state. The administration wants to require all 33 sites be excavated, which Duke Energy contends is unnecessary and costly.

The utility issued this statement on Thursday: “Duke Energy supports common sense solutions that offer the widest range of options to protect the environment, people and their pocketbooks. That is what’s best for North Carolina, and we look forward to working with the General Assembly, the Governor and anyone else who wants to achieve that.”

The bill would guarantee connections to municipal water supplies or filtration systems for neighbors of coal ash ponds who use well water. The administration says it already has the tools to ensure clean water is provided, and says the bill would make those residents have to wait longer than they would under the current law.

Brown says the state should have been more aggressive in requiring Duke to provide water.

Deborah Graham of Salisbury at a news conference calling for probe of state's lifting of do-not-drink notice of private wells near coal ash ponds.