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McCrory coal ash bill blasted as 'step backward'

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory released a draft of his proposed legislation to regulate coal ash in North Carolina Thursday, but a top attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center said the proposal falls far short of protecting North Carolinians.

Frank Holleman, who is based in Chapel Hill with the SELC, called the bill “a step backward” overall.

McCrory, in a press release Wednesday, praised the legislation as a way to address concerns about the coal ash that has spilled into North Carolina waterways.

"Since taking office in January 2013, my administration has discovered a number of long-standing shortcomings in state law that hamper our ability to adequately protect public health and the environment in addition to dealing with emergencies when they happen," McCrory said in a statement. "We need to close these loopholes and give our regulators the tools they need to solve this more than 60-year-old coal ash problem."

McCrory said his plan would call for 19 new positions with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

McCrory did not address specifics of the plan with reporters at an event Wednesday morning, but his office later released a 16-page draft of the proposal. The proposal says the “issue of coal ash has not been adequately addressed in North Carolina for more than six decades.” It also calls on tighter reporting standards for when there are spills and lays out specifics for monitoring the coal ash.


"I know that the public and the General Assembly share our concerns about coal ash, and I ask them to work with me to make sure we tackle this problem head-on to address long-standing problems caused by the ash basins," McCrory said.

Holleman of the SELC said the proposal was riddled with problems, essentially in that it asks citizens, and the General Assembly, to trust DENR and Duke Energy to take care of the coal ash problem.

“Unfortunately, the governor and DENR have not opted to take a strong approach to cleaning up coal ash and protecting North Carolina’s communities,” Holleman said in a telephone interview.

Asked for a response to Holleman’s comments, DENR spokesman Drew Elliott told WNCN, “Gov. McCrory’s proposal is a bold plan to accelerate the clean-up of these ponds, and it continues this administration’s record of being aggressive on environmental issues where previous leaders have done little or nothing.

“The draft legislation proposes a data-driven, site-specific approach to closing the state’s ash ponds, going further than any federal or state legislation in history.”

Holleman, however, was not as impressed. Holleman spelled out his concerns in a lengthy email to WNCN.

Those concerns included:

  • The proposal does not require Duke to clean up its coal ash pollution or move its ash to safe storage.
  • The proposal asks the legislature and the public to trust DENR and Duke Energy. The proposal leaves it to them to decide what happens with Duke’s coal ash. The public and the legislature have no reason to place this trust in two organizations that are responding to a federal criminal grand jury regarding their coal ash activities.
  • The proposal in large part comes directly from the proposed settlement consent order that was rejected by the public of North Carolina last summer and that even DENR was forced to withdraw from court consideration after public outrage and a criminal grand jury investigation. The proposal contains the settlement’s provisions dealing with both groundwater pollution and illegal leaks.
  • The proposal allows DENR and Duke that Duke can continue to spring leaks from its wastewater treatment coal ash facilities, dumping polluted coal ash lagoon water into rivers and drinking water reservoirs.
  • As to the Riverbend facility [in Gaston County], it does not even require Duke to move its coal ash from unlined old storage sites in addition to the lagoons, something that Duke Energy has already agreed to do.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

  • As to the four specifically mentioned sites, it allows Duke and DENR to agree to an undefined alternative instead of coal ash removal to safe, dry storage in a lined facility.
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