Changes to the Coal Ash Management Act proposed by the North Carolina House of Representatives have been modified in a conference committee after the senate failed to pass the proposed amendments last week.
The modified bill would have to be approved by both houses, and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, who has thteatened a veto, before it becomes law.
The modified changes would still require Duke Energy to provide a permanent water supply, either through connecting to a municipal source or building and maintaining a filtration system depending on the cost, to residents around coal ash impoundments, but the newly proposed bill would clarify which residences would be eligible for the program.
Under the proposed legislation Duke would have to provide a permanent water supply to each household within a half mile of the established compliance boundary for the impoundment, provided they are not separated from the impoundment by a mainstem of a river or other body of water, and each household that has a drinking water supply well that is located in an area in which contamination resulting from constituents associated with the presence of a coal combustion residuals impoundment is expected to migrate, as demonstrated by groundwater modeling, and hydrogeologic, geologic, and geotechnical investigations of the site.
According to the modified amendments, Duke Energy would need to present a plan for water replacement to the State Water Infrastructure Authority no later than Sept. 1, 2017, which would be required to approve the plan by Dec. 1, 2017.
The proposed amendment would also require Duke Energy to make available at least 2.5 million tons of coal ash per year from each site for use in concrete by June 1, 2018.
Similar to the original amendments proposed by the House, the conference committee proposal would reinstate the Coal Ash Management Commission, with the majority of appointees coming from the governor with confirmation from the General Assembly.
Under the proposed changes, that commission would evaluate all of the Department of Environmental Quality’s risk assessments for coal ash impoundments in the state and if it fails to act on the proposed classifications within 120 days the classification would be disapproved, but such disapproval would still be subject to appeal.
The proposed legislation also alters how members are selected for the North Carolina Mining Commission, moving the appointment of two members previously appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to the Governor, and requiring General Assembly confirmation for all members appointed by the Governor.
Similarly, the appointment of two members of the North Carolina Oil and Gas Commission previously appointed by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate would be moved to the Governor, again requiring confirmation by the General Assembly.
Term limits for members of both commissions would decrease from six years to four years.
Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Frank Holleman blasted the bill as a bailout for Duke Energy.
“This is a bill designed to bail out Duke Energy, but the legislature is including drinking water provisions as a cover in an election year. 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.
“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,” he said. “However, providing drinking water to nearby communities doesn’t 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 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.
“By seeking to leave leaking, unlined coal ash pits in the middle of these communities, Duke Energy will continue to hurt the property values and quality of life of these neighborhoods and the families that live in them,” he added. ”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.”
91st District Representative Kyle Hall said he had voted against the bill over a variety of concerns.
“While I agree with this bill’s intent to safeguard our state’s water supply, it does not guarantee everyone within the vicinity of coal ash sites would be protected,” said Hall. “In addition, I believe this bill creates a new level of unnecessary bureaucracy rather than simply dealing with the issue of coal ash cleanup. My biggest objection with the bill, however, centered on the provision reactivating the Mining Commission. As you may know, state law requires the Mining Commission to approve hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites. If the Mining Commission is active, fracking could occur in North Carolina.
“With that said, on the House floor, I introduced an amendment striking the Mining Commission provision from the bill,” added Hall. “Unfortunately, the Speaker ruled the amendment out-of-order, so with this provision in-tact, I ultimately decided to vote against the bill”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.