- The North Carolina Senate last week slowed work on a bill that would revive the state's coal ash commission, declining to concur with a version of the measure passed earlier in the state House. Senate Bill 71 will now head to a conference committee where lawmakers will attempt to resolve differences.
- SB 71 would also re-establish the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission (CAMC) under new rules governing the appointment of its seven members. The CAMC was disbanded after a January ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court that commissioners were subject to legislative influence.
- The bill would also amend North Carolina's Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) to owners of coal ash sites to provide permanent alternative water supplies to nearby residents with wells found to be contaminated with coal ash residuals. Gov. Pat McCrory has said he would veto the bill.
The state Supreme Court ruled the General Assembly’s power to appoint the majority of the commission’s members constituted undue legislative branch influence over executive branch authority.
Under SB 71, the governor would appoint five commission members. They would be confirmed by lawmakers.
Duke Energy, which owns 32 coal ash waste storage sites in North Carolina, released a statement endorsing SB 71 in general and specifically supporting the provision to re-establish the CAMC. The commission’s role is “vital,” Duke said, “for the disposal of this non-hazardous material.”
The CAMC would determine much about Duke’s responsibility for the closure of the waste sites, including how costs would be allocated between ratepayers and Duke shareholders. Gov. McCrory has said he would veto the bill, saying the commission is unconstitutional and would undermine enviornmental protections, the AP reports.
The previous week, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) ruled that, under the terms of the CAMA, Duke must excavate coal ash from all state holding ponds by 2024. Eight ponds, named as high priority sites, must be closed by 2019.
In the same ruling, however, the NCDEQ said the deadlines required by CAMA would prevent Duke from doing the cleanup adequately and asked the legislature to amend the law to give the utility more time. Enviornmental and consumer advocacy groups in the state criticised the move, calling it an example of lax regulation — something Duke and DEQ deny.