Solution to coal ash endangerment proposed


At least four plans are slated for consideration during the General Assembly’s short session in May, including one released by Gov. Pat McCrory on April 16.

Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, affirmed a sense of urgency toward the issue among lawmakers.

“These are problems that need solutions as soon as possible. We can’t do anything until the short session, but we want to be ready to go as soon as we can,” Catlin said during an April 21 phone interview.

Catlin, a member of the N.C. Joint Environmental Review Commission, has been working with other state legislators to create a coal ash plan that will draw widespread support in May.

“We’re developing principles to get us and Senate on board, that will include more specific deadlines than what we see in the governor’s plan,” Catlin said.

Some like Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, welcomed the plan as an overdue gesture of concern from a seemingly unfazed administration. Others like Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-District 48, criticized the plan.

Harrison and Apodaca have announced involvement in their own coal ash plans to be presented during the short session.

Catlin rides a middle line, agreeing that coal ash regulation needs more teeth while applauding the governor’s effort.

“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s not as specific as the timetable we’re looking for but it came across as a draft bill and in that way, it’s a good start. It gives us something to argue about,” Catlin said.

Positive or negative appraisals aside, many were surprised to learn the governor was proposing a plan — including Catlin.

“He got it rolled out without getting [legislators]involved, in the bill and the research. We do have some questions,” Catlin said.

The Environmental Review Commission held a special coal ash regulation meeting on April 22.

Commission Co-chairwoman Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said the meeting was not a platform to discuss other proposals, but a way to help legislators grasp the problem before considering solutions.

“The idea here is for us all, particularly the members of this committee, to walk away with an understanding of the types of issues, the context and concerns, so as we begin to put together legislation, we’re not missing something,” Samuelson said.

Paul Newton, Duke Energy state president of North Carolina utility operations, outlined Duke’s response to the Feb. 2 Dan River spill, explaining the company’s efforts to sample water, remove ash deposits and monitor the area.

Discussing Duke’s $9 billion project to modernize coal plants across the state, Newton said closing coal ash ponds at decommissioned sites was a priority before the Dan River spill.

“We have always planned to permanently close these ash basins once they’re no longer needed,” Newton said.

Newton said Duke’s long-term strategy for coal ash pond closures hinges on a site-by-site analysis. Storage options for coal ash removed from basins include storage in a lined landfill or structural fill, recycling or reusing ash for construction materials like concrete, or capping the ash onsite with a synthetic barrier.

Six landfills currently owned by Duke cannot handle coal ash from additional sites. If legislation mandates this method of disposal, the company will have to obtain a site and acquire appropriate permits, which Newton said has previously taken four to five years to achieve.

These efforts will cost Duke somewhere between $2 billion to $10 billion. Costs will be higher if Duke is required to excavate and remove ash from all of its ponds.

Catlin said the plan he is drafting includes a site-by-site approach and compliance plan to prevent further environmental disasters from occurring while permits are approved.

“It’s going to take a while. If we found an instant location for the Sutton ponds, and there are conversations along that line, it would still take years to remove all the ash. What we want immediately is more inspections and more testing to make sure nothing happens in between,” Catlin said.

The North Carolina legislative short session convenes on May 14.



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