Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is catching flak for a proposal on coal ash that could derail state legislators’ efforts to reform regulation of the toxic waste during the upcoming legislative session.
According to the News & Observer, McCrory’s proposal calls for “site-specific closures.” Coal ash from some ponds could be moved, other ponds would be drained and capped but likely still threaten groundwater. In other words, basically what Duke Energy has already said it plans to do.
McCrory and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, have been adamant that a one-size-fits-all approach to coal ash isn’t prudent, talking down a vocal public that believes the toxic waste should be moved from storage near waterways to safer, lined landfills.
On its face, the bill seems to signal progress, or at least make a bad situation a little bit better. For example, it would shorten the time in which Duke would have to notify the public of spills, from 48 hours to 24. OK, probably shouldn’t have been 48 hours to begin with, but we’ll take it.
Also, while the plan would not impose deadlines on Duke to address its leaky ash ponds, it would give Duke 60 days to 90 days after the plan’s passage to submit clean-up plans for ash ponds at the four plants with the most urgent pollution threats – Riverbend, Dan River, Sutton and Asheville.
But Duke already plans to remove ash from the retired Dan River plant, the site of the massive coal ash spill that reminded the public of the toxic legacy left even after coal plants are shuttered. And the company’s plans to repurpose ash from the Riverbend and Asheville plants as fill material at the Charlotte and Asheville airports are both moving forward.
So what’s the rub? After all, McCrory’s office says it still prefers that the ash be moved away from waterways. But that’s part of the problem. Leaving pond closure timelines and what to do with all that coal ash up to Duke hasn’t worked too well up to this point. The public is demanding clean water be protected, not half measures that leave people to throw their hands in the air and say “well, hopefully Duke Energy will do the right thing.”
Citizens and environmental groups sounding off about the ties between Duke, McCrory and DENR have every reason to be skeptical. DENR’s customer-first (read: industry-first) approach had people scratching their heads long before the Dan River spill in February. And early revelations of the federal criminal investigation that followed the spill only increased the lack of trust.
Perhaps to ease those concerns, Skvarla told the News & Observer that neither McCrory’s staff nor the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources consulted Duke about the proposal.
“This is our legislation, not Duke’s legislation,” said Skvarla. That’s reassuring, I suppose. But the fact that it needs to be clarified does not inspire confidence.
The governor’s proposal could also overshadow other legislation that would do more to get this big dirty ball of coal ash that’s settled in North Carolina rolling. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, a member of McCrory’s party who plans to sponsor a bill strengthening coal ash regulation, says McCrory gave legislators no advance notice of the plan.
“The governor doesn’t do legislation. The legislature does legislation,” Apodaca told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “He should have worked with the folks in the legislature to be on the same page getting legislation drafted.”
Apodaca says the plan he intends to introduce would go further.
“We’re going to mandate actual timeframes to close these (ponds), especially those that are near water sources. We’re determined to get rid of the wet ash pond at Asheville.”
Environmental groups including Appalachian Voices want the state to use its authority to move coal ash to landfills licensed to store hazardous waste. The type of waste that contains arsenic, lead, mercury, you know, coal ash. But the N.C. Environmental Management Commission recently sided with Duke Energy and also appealed the ruling that gave the state the authority to do just that.
Appalachian Voices North Carolina campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, pointed out similarities between the legislation and the controversial settlement DENR asked a judge to throw out after months of intense criticism.
“Sections were essentially copied from the failed settlement between Duke and DENR, and then pasted into McCrory’s plan,” Adams said. “It fails to provide any deadlines, doesn’t require moving of the ash at all locations, and provides no standards for newly generated coal ash. This proposal protects Duke Energy, not North Carolina’s citizens.”
Click here to tell your legislators to reject the governor’s proposal and pass legislation that will move the toxic ash to safe, lined storage away from waterways.