Critics say coal ash deal lets Duke Energy off easy

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A coal ash bill is now on Gov. McCrory's desk awaiting his signature

North Carolina lawmakers have given final approval to House Bill 630, a compromise measure that would dictate new cleanup policies for coal ash facilities in the state.

Legislators passed the revised measure after Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed an earlier bill that would have revived an independent oversight commission for the cleanup of the generation byproduct.


Critics say the deal was made behind closed doors -- And essentially fails to hold Duke Energy's feet to the fire when it comes to a swift and thorough clean up.

"I am floored that anyone would have supported this bill." said Amy Brown, who lives just behind a coal ash lagoon in Gaston County. "I call this bill the Duke bill. It sounds like, when you read that bill, it sounds like Duke Energy wrote the bill. And if they didn't write it, it sounds like they at least held the pen that did write it."

The new legislation gives oversight to McCrory's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for dictating how Duke Energy cleans up its coal ash. The governor had claimed the coal ash commission was an unconstitutional overreach into executive authority, prompting his veto and an earlier court challenge.

"It's hard to see what's not to support in the bill," said Jeff Brooks, spokesman for Duke Energy. "While there's no perfect bill, this bill does provide very practical solutions to safely close ash basins and meet the things that many of these groups have asked for all along."

But Brown isn't appeased.

"Fifteen months of cooking every single meal with bottled water. Brushing our teeth with bottled water," Brown said. And having to think about, when you turn that faucet on. When we turn that faucet on, we turn on fear. It's not just water coming out, it's fear."

The bill would give Duke Energy the option of changing the risk classification for their sites from intermediate to low, meaning that the utility could expand its timeline for cleanup.

Brooks said the bill would provide the flexibility, along with proper science and engineering, to clean up different sites. Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Frank Holleman, however, said that the legislation only delays the cleanup process and offers Duke Energy loopholes for accountability.

The bill now heads to McCrory's desk and he is expected to sign it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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