- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Seemingly unworried about a looming veto, the North Carolina legislature approved by comfortable margins Tuesday its final bill reviving a state commission tasked two years ago with managing the cleanup of more than 30 coal ash pits.

The Senate voted 46-1 late Tuesday to back compromise legislation retooling the Coal Ash Management Commission, charged with having a final say over how ash ponds controlled by Duke Energy are closed. The bill, which also addresses how to pipe permanent drinking water to people living near ash pits worried about their health, was backed by the House a few hours earlier in a closer vote.

The strong Senate vote “is an indication of the concern that members have with the coal ash issue and that they think the bill is an appropriate way to deal with it,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said after the final vote.

The House’s 86-25 vote still was well above the margin necessary to override Gov. Pat McCrory and the veto he has threatened. He’s said the commission is unconstitutional based on a court ruling earlier this year in his favor that struck down the composition of the panel created in 2014 in part because legislative leaders chose a majority of its members.

“This legislative vote is not good for our environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina,” McCrory said after the House vote. The governor wasn’t expected to comment further Tuesday evening, his office said. The ratified bill wasn’t expected on his desk before Wednesday at the earliest.

After the ruling, McCrory shut down the commission, but the bill would revive it. Lawmakers continue to agree they want a second set of experts’ eyes upon the clean-up of the coal ash ponds. The ash is residual from coal-fired power plants.

McCrory would get to choose five of the seven members on the new commission, with the governor’s choices subject to General Assembly confirmation, however. The governor said last week he would veto the bill, calling the commission an unnecessary bureaucracy that would delay the ongoing efforts of his Department of Environmental Quality to eliminate safety concerns about the pits.

If there’s a veto override, there would be more litigation ahead, McCrory’s lawyer said last week. Bill supporters say the measure is on solid ground legally. The commission, if constituted, would have more time to evaluate the classifications and make the final decisions.

A couple of weeks ago, DEQ completed the formal risk classification of the pits as required in the 2014 law, and decided the pounds are enough of a concern that they all should be excavated and moved by 2024. Duke Energy said two years ago such excavations would cost $10 billion to complete, with electricity customers paying the bills.

The measure also addresses worries by homeowners close to the ash ponds that their drinking well water could be dirtied by chemicals seeping from the pits into the ground. The final version expands the number of nearby residents that Duke Energy would be required to connect to piped drinking water supplies, initially covering those within a half-mile radius of the pit boundaries.

The drinking water provisions are in part a response to March letters by state health officials that reversed a 2015 warning to homeowners about their water wells.

“I know we have to do this because people are not comfortable with their water supply since we put this letter out,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the bill’s manager in the House, during Tuesday’s debate.

Duke Energy, which has said the coal ash is not polluting water supplies, is backing the new legislation, while environmental groups are not completely unified in opposing the law.

The original commission was constituted months after a spill at a Duke Energy coal-ash pit along the Dan River.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide