Environmentalists: Coal ash compromise is weak

by: Blake Hanson Updated:

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RALEIGH, N.C. —

House and Senate conferees announced a compromise Tuesday that would eliminate all unlined coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

The bill includes a 15-year time table for the closure of the ponds based on whether they are classified as high-risk, intermediate-risk or low-risk. Four area ponds, including those at Mountain Island Lake which is Charlotte's main drinking water source, have already been determined hazardous and would be closed as soon as practically possible or no later than 2019.

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in a joint release with House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, described it as the "strictest" coal ash regulations in the country.

"I am proud of my colleagues for following through to deliver the most comprehensive, aggressive and science-driven mitigation plan in the entire country," said Berger.

However, environmental groups said the bill treads into murky waters. They are criticizing part of the plan that would allow ponds classified as low-risk to be capped in place if there is an agreement by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and an Independent Coal Ash Commission, which would be set up as part of the bill.

"Unfortunately capping those sites and leaving them in place is not a cleanup. They can still fail into the water," said Sam Perkins, Catawba Riverkeeper.

Missing from House and Senate leader's announcement Tuesday was information about whether Duke Energy ratepayers could foot the bill for cleanup costs. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, the final conference report was not posted on the North Carolina legislature website.

Tillis said on Tuesday that they would likely hold a vote on the compromise Wednesday before the session adjourns.