State Politics

McCrory vetoes NC coal ash bill

Gov. Pat McCrory
Gov. Pat McCrory Raleigh

Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday night vetoed a coal ash bill, as promised, saying it was bad for the environment and an overreach by the legislature.

“This legislation is not good for the environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina,” McCrory said in a statement. “This bill lacks a firm deadline to connect well owners to alternate water supplies.”

The General Assembly has enough votes to override the veto, having passed overwhelmingly in both chambers with bipartisan support. Duke Energy, which owns the 33 basins filled with the residue of coal-fired power plants, supports the bill.

The bill would assure neighbors of coal ash ponds that they could be connected to municipal water supplies at Duke Energy’s expense, out of fears that their wells have been polluted.

But McCrory says the bill would delay water safety, not ensure it.

He also objects to the bill’s creation of a commission to regulate cleanup at the ponds. The N.C. Supreme Court this year agreed that the legislature’s previous creation of the commission was unconstitutional because it intruded on executive branch authority.

McCrory told reporters Tuesday morning that he knows the legislature will override his veto. “I’m not picking any fight with the General Assembly,” he said. “What I’m doing is exposing a bill that’s bad for the environment, and it’s bad for our constitution and rule of law. And part of the reason to veto a bill is to make sure the public is aware of exactly what’s in a bill.”

The governor said that he would go to court to seek an accelerated schedule for clean water, and to ensure coal ash pond dams are made safe, and the reuse of coal ash is addressed.

Duke Energy, which supported the bill and has been providing bottled water to hundreds of households for the past year, reacted by issuing this statement:

“We don’t understand why the Governor would veto a bill that makes North Carolina’s Coal Ash law even stronger. Very importantly, it reconstitutes a Commission that will evaluate the safety and cost of any closure plan on customers.

“The legislation gives our state the flexibility to make better basin closure decisions based on new information and the completion of facility improvement projects. Senate Bill 71 also encourages safe recycling of coal ash, which is non-hazardous, and givesplant neighbors certainty about their water quality. Extensive science and engineering studies demonstrate that basins are not impacting neighbor wells, but extending a permanent water supply to those neighbors benefits all customers because it preserves the wide range of closure options.”

Environmentalists have divided opinions about the bill. The Southern Environmental Law Center says the legislature should abandon the bill and take immediate steps to provide safe drinking water and to require the excavation of all coal ash ponds.

“This power struggle by politicians in Raleigh does not stop or clean up pollution from Duke Energy's unlined, leaking coal ash pits across North Carolina,” SELC’s Frank Holleman said. “North Carolina families have spoken loud and clear: Duke Energy’s arsenic, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and countless other pollutants do not belong in our groundwater, rivers, lakes, or drinking water supplies. Thousands of people have demanded that Duke Energy remove its coal ash from unlined, leaking pits to safe dry, lined storage or recycle it into concrete.”

This was the governor’s sixth veto. Four have been overridden.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO