Last week, after getting news it didn’t like from North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality about having to clean up its 33 coal ash ponds across the state, Duke Energy vowed to “clarify” the state’s 2014 Coal Ash Management Law” within the next sixty days.
The energy giant is making good on that promise in the form of a bill that was modified to bail Duke Energy out of having to clean up its coal ash after the DEQ news broke. The bill passed the House Rules Committee on a voice vote late yesterday afternoon.
Among other provisions, the bill requires Duke Energy to connect households using well water that are situated around coal ash basins to piped or municipal water supplies. It also extends the public comment and review period of proposed risk classifications for coal ash pits and it reconstitutes the coal ash management commission that Governor McCrory dismantled after the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that state lawmakers overstepped their boundaries in creating such a commission.
Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which is representing twelve citizen groups in lawsuits against Duke Energy over fourteen leaking coal ash ponds in the state, had this to say about the bill:
“This bill is the latest attempt by Raleigh politicians to bail out Duke Energy. Citizens and communities across North Carolina followed the rules set out in the Coal Ash Management Act over a year and half ago. Under the existing law, after extensive public comments, DEQ was forced to conclude that Duke Energy must remove its coal ash from its dangerous and leaking pits across the state. Now, after heavy lobbying by Duke Energy, the Raleigh politicians want to re-open the process to try to find a way to let Duke Energy off the hook. The law, common sense, and common decency require Duke Energy to take responsibility for its irresponsible coal ash practices and move its coal ash to safe, dry lined storage as is happening in South Carolina today. In fact, up until they got a result they did not like, Duke Energy and the state’s politicians praised CAMA.
“Every community and every family living around one of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash pits deserves a safe and reliable source of clean drinking water at Duke Energy’s expense. It is Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution that has contaminated or threatened the state’s drinking water supplies. Duke Energy owes it to these families to step up and provide them clean water for their homes. This bill makes that process overcomplicated and only sets out what Duke Energy this week has said it intends to do anyway.
“However, providing drinking water to nearby communities does not give Duke Energy amnesty for its illegal and dangerous coal ash pollution. Duke Energy is still polluting groundwater, drinking water supplies, rivers, and lakes. The very fact that Duke Energy must provide water lines underscores that Duke Energy’s coal ash practices have rendered the groundwater unreliable as a source of drinking water. Our clean water is not only a resource for current users, it is a resource for future generations that everyone—including Duke Energy—must protect for the future, not just the present day.
“As long as there are unlined coal ash pits in these communities, these families’ property values will suffer. If Duke Energy leaves its coal ash in unlined pits near these people’s homes, it will continue to hurt these families and drive down the value of one of their most important assets.
“This bill shows again that Duke Energy and politicians in North Carolina believe that Duke Energy does not have to comply with the law like everyone else in the state. Either Duke Energy breaks the law, the state government does not enforce the law against Duke Energy, or, when it’s inconvenient for Duke Energy to obey the law, the state’s politicians try to change it for Duke Energy’s benefit. Sooner or later, Duke Energy must obey the law and stop polluting North Carolina’s clean water with coal ash. And, sooner or later, North Carolina’s politicians have to put the public interest above Duke Energy’s special interest.”
In a funny twist, the News and Observerreports that McCrory sent members of his legal counsel to the House Rules Committee meeting Tuesday to warn lawmakers not to re-assemble the coal ash commission.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s legal counsel and top environmental officials attended the unscheduled committee meeting held at the end of the day to stress that if the General Assembly passes the bill McCrory will veto it and sue lawmakers again. The counsel, Bob Stephens, had warned the legislature in 2014 that giving the General Assembly the majority of appointments to the commission was unconstitutional, but the bill was passed anyway.
“My message is, let’s don’t relive history here,” Stephens said. “We know what happened the first time. Let’s don’t do it again. Nobody wants that. The governor does not want that.”
The House Rules Committee approved the bill on a split voice vote. It goes to the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
Under the bill, McCrory would appoint five positions on the commission and the legislature would appoint two, whereas before, the governor appointed three positions, and the House and Senate each appointed three positions.
McCrory still thinks the appointments structure is unconstitutional because it doesn’t give him enough executive authority, though the commission was created in the first place as a safeguard against Duke Energy unduly influencing the governor, its former employee.