Wednesday, June 18, 2014

N.C. congressmen urge federal action on coal ash

North Carolina Congressmen G.K. Butterfield and David Price aren't leaving it up to N.C. legislative leaders to tackle the coal ash storage issue. They want stricter federal rules in place. So just at an N.C. Senate committee approves their Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, Senate Bill 729, requiring Duke Energy to close its leaky dumps at four high-risk sites within five years and 10 other less risky sites by 2029, the two sent a letter to the feds urging the U.S. government to get actively involved.

Price represents North Carolina's Fourth District - a rapidly growing, research-and-education-focused district that includes parts of Alamance, Orange, Durham, Wake, Harnett, Chatham and Cumberland counties.

Butterfield's First District is located in the northeastern corner of the state, stretching from Durham to Elizabeth City and including all or parts of 24 counties.

The letter, co-signed by 83 members of Congress, presses Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy for tougher standards regarding the storage and disposal of coal ash. The stricter standards and enforcement would come under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by year’s end, and follows several recent coal ash spills, including the Dan River spill in North Carolina in March.

The letter, released Wednesday, reads in part:

“Coal ash can enter the watershed through the catastrophic failure of an impoundment wall or can slowly leach into groundwater and surface water when the impoundment is unlined. Our constituents deserve to be able to count on safe drinking water and to have their waterways protected from harmful contaminants.”

Butterfield and Price, both Democrats, emphasized that “it appears we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities. It is troubling that it has taken large coal ash spills like those in North Carolina and Tennessee to mobilize stakeholders to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes to mitigate those hazards. Those catastrophes could have been avoided and we owe it to all Americans to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future.”

"We encourage the EPA to finalize protections that phase out dangerous wet impoundments, including those at legacy sites, and ensure that facilities use protective liners and groundwater monitoring to safeguard against contamination."

North Carolina is moving toward putting long-needed protections in place but Butterfield and Price are right to ratchet up federal safeguards. Duke Energy is already trying to get removal deadlines taken out of the N.C. Senate bill - so far unsuccessfully and lawmakers views on holding utilities' to significant standards for protecting our drinking water and waterways could change in the future.

Editorially this week, we've already said there is little to stop the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources from designating most or all of Duke' ash ponds low-risk. And we've noted that DENR's relationship with Duke has been so cozy that it is being criminally investigated by federal authorities, suggesting it might not take the strictest approach.

Duke doesn't have to remove the ash from sites deemed to be low-risk. The company can leave the ash in place and just put a "cap" over those lagoons, which does not protect groundwater.

A strict nationwide standard is needed.


Carol Justus said...

Why does he not encourage the NC Legislature to pass legislation to curb the the pollution of the environment in their state.

When the federal government passes legislation to protect the environment many states go bonkers saying the federal government is interfering into their affairs!!!!!!