- Associated Press - Thursday, July 3, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A bill requiring Duke Energy to close all of its coal ash dumps across the state within 15 years was passed Thursday by the North Carolina House, but environmental groups say it doesn’t go far enough.

The bill now heads to a conference committee where lawmakers will work out differences between the House and Senate versions.

If both houses approve a compromise, it will go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

Speaker Thom Tillis, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, encouraged members to vote for the bill, even if they disagree with some provisions.

“This is unlike anything that’s been done in any other state. You have an opportunity to vote for something that’s historic,” he said.

The House version includes several measures not included in the Senate bill, including a provision that could give Duke some leeway on cleanup deadlines.

The House legislation also requires high-risk dams to have an emergency action plan and rolls back the expiration date for a moratorium on rate changes by three months, to Dec. 31, 2016.

A measure allowing Duke to draw water out of the ponds to prevent possible groundwater contamination was also added, along with a directive to reuse coal ash instead of capping it in ponds.

An amendment from Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, barring Duke from passing the costs of cleanup to rate payers was defeated in the House.

Martin and other Democrats said it was necessary to protect citizens.

“The rate payers really should not be penalized further in this bill,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham.

But Republicans argued that rate changes are considered by an impartial utilities commission that has a staff dedicated to the public’s concerns.

Differences over creating a coal-ash commission still must be worked out between the House and Senate.

McCrory has objected to the Senate’s plan to name a new nine-member commission to oversee hazard rankings and closures of Duke’s ash pits.

McCrory’s general counsel, Bob Stephens, has warned the commission violates the separation of powers between the legislative branch, which makes law, and the executive branch that enforces it.

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