Governor signs newest coal ash bill into law

Published 4:48 pm Friday, July 15, 2016

SALISBURY — Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday signed a controversial bill that requires Duke Energy to provide a permanent source of safe drinking water to people living near coal ash ponds and received unanimous support from local legislators.

Critics of the measure — numbered HB 630 — have called it a bailout for Duke Energy. In a news release issued Friday, McCrory noted the bill, once signed, would provide permanent sources of safe water. Currently, most people in the Dukeville community live on bottled water, regardless of whether the state has declared their well unsafe.

In the news release, McCrory said the measure “protects the environment while also protecting consumers from higher electricity prices.”

He compared the newly signed measure to a previous one that he vetoed. In his news release, McCrory criticized the previous measure for not setting a deadline for connecting water supplies, disregarding necessary repairs to dams at coal ash ponds and lacking requirements for coal ash to be recycled. HB 630 requires Duke Energy to provide safe drinking water by 2018, which would likely include extending water lines in Rowan.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality secretary also issued a news release on Friday about the signing. In it, Secretary Donald R. van der Vart noted aspects of the law that he sees as positive.

“The new coal ash law establishes a firm timetable for providing permanent water connections and repairing dams at coal ash ponds,” van der Vaart said. “It also protects customers by allowing for less expensive methods of closing coal ash ponds that won’t be passed on in the form of higher electricity prices.”

The “less expensive methods” are the most significant point of contention among environmental groups. In a previous interview, Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott criticized House Bill 630 for a provision that would leave coal ash at Buck Steam Station after water lines are extended. Scott said it’s already been proven that Buck’s coal ash ponds leak into the Yadkin River. Capping the ponds in place wouldn’t alleviate that problem, he said.

When the bill passed the N.C. General Assembly earlier this year, it received bipartisan support in both houses. Reps. Carl Ford and Harry Warren, both of whom represent a part of Rowan County, voted for the measure. Sens. Andrew Brock and Tom McInnis, who also represent Rowan, also voted for the bill.

The North Carolina General Assembly’s website hadn’t been updated by Friday afternoon to show McCrory had signed the bill.

A full story will appear in Saturday’s Salisbury Post

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246