New North Carolina Bill Allows Duke Energy To Dodge Coal Ash Cleanup Again

While residents and environmentalists urge Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pits, North Carolina’s biggest utility — and the governor’s former workplace — just got another pass from the legislature.

Duke will likely not have to clean up seven of its unlined coal ash pits, where the byproduct of coal-fired power plants is stored. Instead, the company can opt to simply fortify its dams and pipe drinking water to nearby residents. The chemicals and heavy metals in coal ash, which include mercury and arsenic, can leach into local water supplies, especially since it is usually mixed with water into a slurry.

Under legislation passed shortly after the Dan River spill, the company would have been required to clean up all its storage sites. But new, less demanding legislation passed the House on Thursday evening and is expected to be signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who worked at Duke for 28 years before entering politics.

“What has been removed from this bill because it is fatal to Duke’s plans is serious emphasis on protecting the state’s water supplies,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said. He pointed out that agreeing to pipe water to local communities without removing the coal ash pits was tantamount to Duke acknowledging that it has already or is likely to contaminate ground water.

Duke has already been convicted under the Clean Water Act of criminally failing to maintain equipment and unlawfully discharging coal ash and coal ash wastewater. “This legislature has adopted a wide-ranging change in a North Carolina environmental law at the request of a confessed environmental criminal,” Holleman pointed out.

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