NC Lawmakers Come Up Short on Coal Ash

Guest Blog | August 21, 2014 | Coal, Energy Policy

Bryant and Sherry Gobble live next door to one of Duke Energy's coal ash impoundment at the Buck Steam Station in Dukeville, NC. Duke and North Carolina environmental regulators have known since 2011 that the dumpsite has been polluting groundwater with toxic substances, but have taken no action to stop pollution or warn neighbors of the danger. Photo source: AP

In the days and weeks after the Dan River disaster, North Carolina legislators made bold promises to protect the public from dangerous and polluting coal ash sites. Since May there’s been several stops and starts on coal ash legislation, and for a time it looked like the General Assembly would fail to pass any legislation.

Instead, the General Assembly passed a bill last night that falls far short of the protections North Carolinians desperately need. In the early days of this legislative session, we were hopeful that North Carolina lawmakers were going to put forth a strong bill to force Duke Energy to clean up all of its polluting sites.

Unfortunately, the bill they passed actually undermines current groundwater protection laws, fails to clean up 10 of North Carolina’s dangerous and polluting coal ash impoundments and lets Duke off the hook for the harm their dumpsites are causing communities and waterways statewide. As a News & Observer recent Editorial aptly stated, Senate Bill 729 “proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem.”

At the very least, lawmakers could have codified a judge’s ruling earlier this year (a result of citizen suits enforcing the Clean Water Act) that clarified the requirement in current law that Duke immediately remove all sources of groundwater pollution (i.e., every single one of their coal ash dumpsites, all of which have been polluting groundwater for years). Instead, the new bill will leave much of the state’s coal ash right where it is, either dewatered or capped in place next to waterways where it can pollute in perpetuity–a plan that lawmakers are touting as comprehensive clean up.

Members of the General Assembly aren’t the only ones trying to look tough on coal ash while doing the exact opposite. Once it was clear that earlier bill negotiations were at an 11th hour impasse, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory signed an executive order, which he claimed moves the state forward on coal ash clean up, but advocates have dismissed as little more than a political stunt that doesn’t create any additional safeguards for NC’s communities or waterways.

Then, on August 13 we learned of McCory’s dishonesty in misleading the public following the Dan River disaster by claiming he no longer owned any Duke Energy stock, when in fact he owned at least $10,000 worth. This blatant disregard for the public’s trust reaffirms suspicions of disturbingly cozy ties between the Governor and his former employer, Duke Energy.

While North Carolina’s decision-makers continue to prioritize Duke Energy’s bottom line over public health and safety, communities remain at risk from these dangerous and polluting sites. In addition to those who live near and depend on the Dan River, citizens are living with drinking water poisoned by coal ash in Flemington, Asheville, Dukeville and other communities. At least there will be opportunities for communities to engage in the newly established coal ash commission’s public process that will determine how each of Duke’s coal ash dumpsites will be closed. Stay tuned to our coal ash news page for the latest updates and opportunities to get involved in your community!

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