Several environmental groups wrote N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger and House speaker Thom Tillis on Friday to complain about the coal ash legislation now before a legislative conference committee.
Legislation adopted by both chambers sets Duke Energy on a 15-year timeline to drain each of its 33 ash ponds in North Carolina. Differences between the two include House changes that allow extensions to the timeline and changes in how groundwater contamination is defined. Neither says whether consumers would pay to clean up the ponds.
House and Senate members say their work puts North Carolina at the forefront of states in dealing with ash and predict it will serve as a national cleanup model.
But the environmental groups wrote that "the current legislation inexplicably attempts to weaken our state's existing groundwater protection laws in favor of Duke Energy while allowing Duke to continue polluting state waters and putting our communities at risk."
The letter was signed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents groups in litigation against Duke, and representatives of 11 advocacy groups including Charlotte's Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.
It listed three "fundamental problems" with the legislation:
- Ash is required to be removed from ponds at only four of Duke's 14 coal-fired power plants in the state. The groups say ash could stay in place, near water it could contaminate, at the remaining 10 plants.
- House members inserted language they said was intended to prevent over-broad interpretations of a judge's order this year that state law requires "immediate action" to eliminate sources of groundwater pollution. Advocates say the change "is a clear effort to gut that requirement."
- The bill allows Duke the option of bringing unpermitted leaks from its coal ash dams under existing permits.
"In short, the bill as written actually weakens North Carolina's protections against coal ash pollution, which is alarming given the recent disaster at the Dan River facility and frequent assurances that this bill would provide strong protections for our citizens," the groups wrote. "It is not too late to make good on those promises."
Rep. Chuck McGrady and Sen. Tom Apodaca, both Republicans from Hendersonville, are the respective leads for ash legislation in the House and Senate and are expected to try to arrive at a compromise bill. No word when it will appear.