After receiving more than 8,000 comments and hosting 15 public hearings across the state in early 2016, the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released its recommendations that all coal ash ponds be classified as either intermediate or high-risk, which would have required Duke Energy to excavate and remove coal ash from those sites.
In the midst of the public hearings, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), at the urging of Governor McCrory’s office, rescinded the “do not drink” order it placed on household wells near coal ash ponds one month earlier.
“State health officials had discovered hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer, in hundreds of owners’ wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds.”
This decision caused fear and confusion among residents. State health officials had discovered hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer, in hundreds of owners’ wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds.
Why did state officials then take the “do not drink” letters back just 30 days later? According to news reports, the letters lifting the “do not drink” warnings resulted from DEQ and DHHS administrators overriding the advice of their own staff experts. In a deposition released in August 2016, Rudo stated that this decisions was both immoral and unethical; a decision where he fought leadership…and lost.
Back in the NC General Assembly, a bipartisan effort pushed to re-establish the Coal Ash Management Commission in a proposed committee substitute to Senate Bill 71, filed as “Commission Appointment Modifications.” SB71 would have reopened DEQ’s just released classifications, allowing for further delays in coal ash cleanup. This legislation received support from both DEQ and Duke Energy, but not environmental groups, including NCLCV. While this bill passed both Chambers, Governor McCrory vetoed it, likely because he wanted to ensure his anti-environmental friends at DEQ still maintained control of the coal ash cleanup process, instead of an independent authority that might actually hold Duke Energy accountable.
Then, a new coal ash bill emerged from the legislative mire–a worse bill for North Carolina communities and natural resources. It became clear that Duke Energy had mobilized its lobbying armada, working with the McCrory administration and Senate leadership to craft House Bill 630, “Drinking Water Protection/Coal Ash Cleanup Act,” or more appropriately titled the “Duke Energy Protection Act.”
“Despite the dysfunction, this administration still found a way to bail out Duke Energy by further delaying coal ash cleanup in North Carolina.”
HB630 did not attempt to reinstate the Coal Ash Management Commission. Instead, it requires DEQ to classify some coal ash ponds as low-risk. This nullifies earlier classifications as well as the 8,000 comments and citizen participation at public hearings. HB630 allows Duke Energy to cap-in-place certain coal ash ponds. The method also has not been proven to stop the flow of pollutants from coal ash ponds into drinking water sources. This bill also requires Duke Energy to provide clean, safe drinking water sources to impacted communities by October 2018. These communities have lived on bottled water for more than 365 days already. What’s another 800 days?
Despite a bipartisan effort from 36 legislators to reject the legislation, HB630 passed both Chambers right before session ended. Governor McCrory signed HB630 into law on July 15, 2016. Despite the dysfunction, this administration still found a way to bail out Duke Energy by further delaying coal ash cleanup in North Carolina.