NORTH CAROLINA: Legislation calls for closure of coal ash ponds - WRBL

Legislation calls for closure of Duke's coal ash ponds

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Workers survey a coal ash spil into the Dan River. Workers survey a coal ash spil into the Dan River.

A committee is set to debate a bill backed by key North Carolina lawmakers, that would require Duke Energy to close all of its coal ash dumps across the state within 15 years, with much of the toxic material going into lined landfills.

The plan requires the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton coal ash ponds to be removed and closed no later than 2019. Duke's more than 100 million tons of existing ash would either have to be dug up and removed or sealed in place to stop contaminating groundwater.

"Addressing the environmental, regulatory and consumer protection concerns caused by North Carolina's coal ash ponds is one of the Senate's top priorities -- and that's why it was the focus of the very first bill we filed this short session," said Senate Rules Committee Chair Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) in a written release. "This is a long-standing problem that started three quarters of a century ago, and I'm pleased to be a part of the first General Assembly to take it seriously."

  • Click Here to view SB729: Coal Ash Management Act of 2014

The remaining ponds will be classified into three categories of risk. Sites determined to be high-risk must be closed within five years or no later than 2019, intermediate-risk sites by no later than 2024 and low-risk sites by no later than 2029.

Duke Energy said the bill requires the company to close all of its ponds in about half the 30 years it will need. Spokesman Jeff Brooks said complying with the 15-year deadline would place a significant burden on the $50 billion company.

"We are currently reviewing the proposed legislation in detail, but it's clear that the bill timeline is much more aggressive than our plan," Brooks said Monday. "We've stated that excavation at one of our largest sites could take up to 30 years."

The bill also mandates that all future coal ash disposal must be managed in new or existing lined landfills with extensive groundwater monitoring. It also requires pond owners to divert stormwater away from ash ponds and phase out the disposal of wet ash within five years.

To protect North Carolina consumers, the bill bans utility companies from recovering costs for the damage caused by coal ash spills, including associated civil or criminal fines.

"As a resident of Eden, I have personally experienced the impact and understand the gravity of the recent coal ash spill," said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in a written release. "I am pleased the Senate has developed the most aggressive approach to eliminating coal ash in the entire country to protect consumers and mitigate environmental problems."

Environment watchdog group NC WARN, however, contests the bill is the "worst legislation ever written by Duke Energy lobbyists." NC WARN said the plan potentially allows groundwater contamination from the toxic ash to continue.

"Duke Energy's lobbyists have persuaded North Carolina senate leaders to propose a Burn-the-Public bill that would provide minimal clean-up of the utility's 33 leaking coal ash dumps, and maximal abuse of electricity customers and those physically impacted by toxic coal ash," NC WARN Director Jim Warren said in a statement.

"The bill would leave the public to the mercies of state environmental and utility regulators despite their track record of coddling Duke Energy.

"Senate Bill 729 would allow Duke to charge its customers billions of dollars for executives' recklessness -- after the utility's shareholders have profited from years of mishandling coal ash."

The legislation comes 4 months after a massive spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in sludge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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