What to do about coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity? The North Carolina Senate and House have dueling views on what should be done, and environmentalists say neither approach does enough to clean up existing coal-ash impoundments and prevent spills like the one that released tens of thousands of gallons into the Dan River this February. The proposals go into conference soon, as legislators try to iron out their differences and craft the final bill, Carolina Public Press reports:
Early on the Senate’s agenda this week will be a formal vote on the House version of the Coal Ash Management Act. Unless the Senate accepts House changes, which is not expected, the bill will go to a conference committee.
The legislation passed the House 94-16 last week after a marathon two-day debate that saw 23 amendments on the House floor and many more in committee hearings.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a chief sponsor in the House and one of the floor managers of the bill, [said that] the law was a comprehensive approach to the problem that starts by stopping the creation of new ponds while prioritizing the closure of the remaining sites. McGrady defended the decision to reject amendments requiring Duke Energy not to pass costs for cleanup on to rate payers saying the issue “was not ripe for decision” and would likely be settled later.
During legislative debate, McGrady and House leaders fended off several efforts to add other coal ash ponds to the list of four high priority sites, which includes ponds near the French Broad River at Duke Energy’s Asheville plant. … “There’s a lot in dispute between us and the Senate and we’re going to be dealing with changes of position and fact right up until we finish our conference,” he said. …
Those opposing the bill because it didn’t go far enough or include other specific sites on the priority list were rejecting an important first step in addressing coal ash, [Speaker of the House Tom Tillis] said. …
Environmental advocates said they would press for changes during House and Senate negotiations on the bill. Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, spokesman for the North Carolina Sierra Club, said the House version makes some troubling changes that could overturn a recent court decision on contamination cleanup.
“Not only does the bill fail to add protections missing from the Senate version of the bill, but it appears to undermine a recent court ruling stemming from a citizen suit that would require Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of its groundwater contamination,” Chicurel-Bayard said in a statement released after the final House vote.