Sierra Club: Coal ash bill falls short
N.C. Sierra Club response to final passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act:
The legislature today (Wednesday) gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.
Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.
The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.
Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at 10 sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect N.C. residents and communities.
And, while making strides in many respects, the legislation attempts to undermine a current ruling on groundwater law. A recent ruling in the state Superior Court requires immediate clean up action at all sites by requiring the source of groundwater contamination, the coal ash, to be removed.
Finally, while the bill provides much needed financial resources to DENR to implement the provisions, the bill fails to provide sufficient guidance to the newly created Coal Ash Commission, which is charged with making key decisions.
After the bill’s passage, Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:
“Today the General Assembly completed work on the nation’s first attempt by a state legislature to tackle the challenge of developing a statewide comprehensive coal ash management plan.
“Without this legislation, coal ash would have remained essentially unregulated, an untenable position for North Carolina residents. Still, today’s action does not go far enough to prevent more contamination of our treasured water resources.
“Looking ahead, North Carolina’s coal ash crisis will not be resolved by one piece of legislation. It will take continued attention and leadership by our elected leaders and an engaged citizenry to ensure that coal ash cleanup is successful. The Sierra Club will continue to engage our tens of thousands of members in North Carolina who support strong action to address coal ash pollution.
“We call on the EPA to finish what North Carolina started to ensure full protection by adopting strong national standards for coal ash to protect every community in the United States. EPA action is needed more than ever to set a national standard and to stop the piecemeal approach to addressing coal ash waste and contamination across the U.S.”