Dissolution of coal ash state panel a win for McCrory

Joel Brown Image
Friday, March 18, 2016
Coal ash
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North Carolina's Coal Ash Management Commission was formed out of the outrage over Duke Energy's massive coal ash spill in the Dan River in 2014.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Gov. Pat McCrory declared victory Thursday in his battle with legislative leaders in the fight over coal ash cleanup.

The governor informed the state panel in charge of overseeing the closure of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds that its services were no longer needed. The McCrory administration will handle coal ash management from here on out.

North Carolina's Coal Ash Management Commission was formed out of the outrage over Duke Energy's massive coal ash spill in the Dan River in 2014.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly openly doubted the Department of Environmental Quality, led by Gov. McCrory appointees, to police Duke and oversee the closure of the company's 32 coal ash ponds.

At the time, environmentalists applauded the creation of an independent panel.

"To provide oversight for DEQ, to help make sure all the coal ash near our communities gets cleaned up properly," explained Daniel Chicurel-Bayard, Communications Director at the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club.

But McCrory sued, accusing the legislature of overstepping its constitutional authority. The governor's attorneys argued before the state Supreme Court that the job of appointing the commission was McCrory's alone.

McCrory won support from former governors on both sides of the aisle.

"I hope very much the court will rule in the governor's favor. All the governors who've served would be on his side", said former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt, following the June 2015 hearing at the state's high court.

In late January, the Supreme Court sided with McCrory. And word came Thursday afternoon that the state's Coal Ash Commission was no more.

RELATED: Read the governor's letter to the coal ash commission (.PDF)

A letter from the governor's office addressed to the nine-member panel effectively put the commission out of business.

In a statement to ABC11, a McCrory administration official says, "The North Carolina Supreme Court made it clear that the commission is an unconstitutional body that cannot take any action. However, there will be absolutely no change in the Department of Environmental Quality's implementation of the Coal Ash Management Act."

Critics of the governor's decision suggest McCrory's office is misinterpreting the Supreme Court's ruling and only adding more uncertainty to the lives of residents who live near the coal ash ponds.

"The Supreme Court decided that the legislative appointments to the coal ash commission were unconstitutional -- not the body itself," Chicurel-Bayard said. "So, it's unclear on what basis the governor thinks he has the authority to dismantle a commission created by the legislature."

It is still unclear whether McCrory intends to appoint picks for a new coal ash commission or whether he'll leave the task of coal ash oversight completely to staffers at the Department of Environmental Quality.

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