A proposal to clean up coal ash pits leaves the hazard in place and the expense unassigned
The Coal Ash Management Act that won final approval by the Republican-led General Assembly Wednesday is better than the Republicans’ previous approach to leaking coal ash pits. Namely, “Let’s adjourn and do nothing.”
But this something is not much better than nothing. Essentially, Senate Bill 729 proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem. Only four of Duke Energy’s 14 coal ash sites are designated for cleanup by 2019. What to do with the rest would depend on risk assessments by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and approval by a commission whose members would be appointed by the legislature and the governor.
The legislation that cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday allows Duke Energy to close some of its coal ash pits using a method – known as cap-in-place – that has been linked with groundwater contamination at the company’s Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, according to documents obtained by the Journal.
Samples from monitoring wells associated with the coal ash landfill, one of four pits used to dispose of coal waste from the Belews Creek Steam Station, show that such pollutants as arsenic, boron, cadmium, iron, manganese, nitrate, selenium, sulfate and other elements exceeded state safe-water limits.
Conservation groups prefer that Duke excavate the coal ash at all 14 sites and put it in lined landfills. While Duke says that cap-in-place would be safe, conservationists say that pollutants in the coal ash left in capped ponds would eventually seep into groundwater and contaminate it – as has been documented by the Pine Hall landfill.
“This (legislation) leaves ongoing contamination in place – and that is a major policy shift for North Carolina,” said D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Should Indianapolis Power & Light test the groundwater at the 8 coal ash lagoons? Last time tests were public was 1989. #DTECH— DistribuTECH (@DistribuTECH) August 21, 2014
In case you missed this report from Earthjustice about coal ash …
One of Coal Ash Chronicles’ interns, the amazing Haley Twist, wrote an article for the recently released issue of Waterkeeper magazine about the Dan River coal ash spill. Read it on page 46 of the magazine, or page 24 of this PDF file: http://waterkeeper.org/cms/assets/uploads/2014/08/WKSUMMER14_FinalOnline.pdf
Good job, Haley!!
Reminder for transparency’s sake: The Waterkeeper Alliance is CAC’s fiscal sponsor, which means we can accept tax-deductible donations.
No need to click the link, this is the whole thing:
“The comprehensive action by North Carolina lawmakers gives Duke Energy direction to move forward with a stronger standard for the management of coal ash at our facilities. We will immediately begin adapting our strategy to meet the requirements in the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act.”
“The bill doesn’t explicitly require Duke to do anything it hasn’t already voluntarily committed to do or will soon be required by the federal government,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
As North Carolina’s legislative leaders are congratulating themselves on the imminent passage of a coal ash cleanup bill, the first in the nation, democrats and environmentalists are warning of a coming consumer backlash since the bill would allow Duke to stick the ratepayers with future cleanup costs.
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins complains that the bill “lets Duke off the hook” for all cleanup costs except for Dan River, the site of a massive coal ash spill in February.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, Republican of Hendersonville and the bill’s sponsor, told fellow lawmakers from the floor that in his view Duke would still be financially responsible for any negligence.
The state House has passed a bill that would require an independent commission to oversee the cleanup of 33 coal ash ponds throughout North Carolina. State senators are expected to approve the measure later today.
Another “spilt” mentioned repeatedly on Twitter by reliable sources suggested that the question of who would pay for cleanup efforts — Duke Energy or consumers — was the real sticking point.
… the two chambers split over the definition of high, medium, and low priority that would attach to each of the ponds. High-priority ponds must be cleaned up right away, and 4 of the 33 ponds will be designated “high priority” by law. But there was no definition of lower priority and a concern among many legislators that Duke would be allowed to cap the toxic material in place near many vulnerable water sources.