As expected, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed this bill Monday evening, saying it was too lenient in its deadlines for providing alternative water supplies to people affected by Duke’s coal ash pollution, but also noting that the bill sought to re-establish a coal ash commission which the governor previously challenged as unconstitutional.
“This legislation is not good for the environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina,” McCrory said in a statement.
Both the State House and Senate have the votes to override McCrory’s veto, but the governor has said that if they go forward, he will sue again to stop the commission from being formed.
North Carolina’s biggest utility has 14 different coal ash storage sites in the state, and none of them are safe.
That means the chemicals and heavy metals — including mercury and arsenic — in coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for power generation, can leach into local water supplies. The safety issue was demonstrated in dramatic fashion a few years ago, when a coal ash storage pond ruptured, sending millions of gallons of poisonous sludge into North Carolina’s Dan River.
Environmentalists have long been trying to force Duke Energy, the state’s massive utility, to clean up its coal ash sites, but after the Dan River disaster, more legislators got on board, passing the Coal Ash Management Act.
It hasn’t exactly gone well.
Among other things, the act set up a commission to oversee Duke’s coal ash clean-up efforts, but last year, Gov. Pat McCrory (R), a former Duke executive, sued to dismantle the commission — and won. The judge found that the way the commissioners were appointed did not meet the state’s constitutional requirements, because it bypassed the governor’s office.
Now, North Carolina legislators are trying to set up the commission again — as well as force Duke to provide water for people who live within a half mile of the coal ash ponds. The state Senate on Tuesday passed the new bill, which will now go to McCrory for his signature.
McCrory is expected to veto the bill — which he said was “not good for our environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina.”
Settlement Gives Utility The Go-Ahead To Dump Coal Ash Wastewater Into Virginia RiversClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber A utility company that will legally dispose of coal ash water in two Virginia…thinkprogress.orgIt might seem like the legislature is fighting for the people and McCrory is fighting for Duke, but that’s not exactly the case, said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who has been fighting coal ash in court.
The state Department of Environmental Quality — after a lengthy review period — already determined that Duke needs to clean up every one of its coal ash sites, which were all rated as intermediate or high risk to the community. And people want excavation now.
Under the new bill, DEQ would have a chance to re-examine the sites, and Duke would get a chance to press the government to be more lenient. In addition, the matter would likely be pushed to after the election, meaning potentially less accountability for elected officials.
“This bill re-opens the door for Duke Energy to leave its leaking coal ash in our groundwater, continuing to pollute our rivers, lakes and drinking water supplies, further jeopardizing the health and homes of families and communities across North Carolina,” Holleman said in a statement. “The bill does nothing to clean up or stop Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.”
Cleaning up coal ash does work, as a new report showed this week. Coal ash removal by another utility in neighboring South Carolina has resulted in measurably lower levels of arsenic contamination in local groundwater. Santee Cooper has removed 550,000 tons of coal ash from a site in Conway, South Carolina, under a settlement reached with SELC on behalf of local environmental groups. Arsenic levels have fallen 60 to 90 percent since cleanup started, according to documents the utility submitted to the state.
It’s successes like these that expose how North Carolina’s continued stalling on the coal ash issue is causing ongoing concerns for the local communities — which need more than just bottled water, critics say. Holleman said framing the measure as a means to provide bottled water for the communities near coal ash was misleading, and, in fact, the bill was a “bail out.”
“If the legislature truly wants to help out the local communities, it could pass a bill that only requires Duke Energy to provide these families a supply of safe, clean, safe drinking water. Instead, the legislature is passing a wolf in sheep’s clothing, to help out Duke Energy,” Holleman said.
One Democrat in the state House told a local paper that she supported the measure, which passed with enough votes to override the expected veto, because she didn’t trust DEQ to enforce Duke’s clean-up requirements.
McCrory has until June 14 to veto the bill, or it will pass automatically.
A North Carolina Superior Court ordered Duke on Thursday to clean up four of its unlined coal ash pits: Dan River in Eden, Mountain Island Lake in Mount Holly near Charlotte, the French Broad River in Asheville, and the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. This brings the total number of court-ordered cleanups to seven. The most recent court order is available here, courtesy SELC.