The bill of interest this week, House Bill 374, puts North Carolina communities at risk for future coal ash spills and takes away citizens’ rights to appeal contested cases. For these reasons, we encourage legislators to vote “NO” on H374.
The Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS), provided by the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate, raises concerns for our environment and public health. As witnessed during the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill, as well as the overflowing coal ash pond from Hurricane Mathew, unrecycled coal ash can be washed away into our lakes and rivers. Section 4 of H374 removes the requirement for Duke Energy to establish a third beneficiation project, meaning more coal ash will remain in collection pools, thus increasing the possibility of coal ash spills
The cement industry in North Carolina stated that demand for coal ash is not being met, forcing the industry to import coal ash from other countries. To determine the estimated demand for coal ash outlined in this bill, lawmakers used information provided by Duke and not the actual demand of NC cement companies. Therefore, the estimated demands in this bill are lower than the actual demand. An update to the study done by Dr. Leming at N.C. State concluded that this year’s coal ash demand was 950,000 tons, which is above the amount that would be supplied by this bill. The legislature should strive to create legislation that recycles as much coal ash as possible. Recycling coal and using it in cement production is a great way of keeping it from escaping into the environment. On top of that, cement companies would prefer to use coal ash over its substitute because coal ash creates a stronger cement.
We are also concerned with Section 12 of H374, which would weaken the contested case process in the following ways:
- Takes away the ability for most citizens to contest environmental permits/certificates appeals on which the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) received public comments.
- Prohibits permitting agency from testifying in order to explain submitted material. Therefore, the administrative law judge may not be sufficiently informed about all aspects of the case and may not be able to obtain background information on the submitted material through testimonies.
- Keeps any party from appealing the decision unless they had raised an issue during the permitting period.
There are two other sections of the bill that pose environmental risks. Section 3 would eliminate current requirements for new or modified permits for life-of-site landfills, allowing noncompliance by landfills to potentially remain hidden. Section 8 would allow for expired septic system permits that were not updated between 2000 and 2015 to be reinstated until 2020. These obsolete permits would allow these septic systems to operate below the updated standards.
Overall, H374 contains numerous provisions that rollback safeguards put in place to protect NC’s water, air, land, and people, including allowing coal ash to remain in vulnerable ponds, noncomplying landfills to remain undetected, and septic systems from being properly updated. The bill also takes away citizens rights to appeal environmental permits and disregards public concerns. Once again, we encourage our legislators to vote “NO” on H374.