Raleigh, N.C. – Senate and House conferees announced Tuesday evening they have reached a compromise agreement on coal ash mitigation that would give North Carolina the strictest regulations on coal ash in the nation and make it the first state to force the closure of all coal ash ponds.
“Since day one, the House and Senate have agreed that fixing coal ash is a top priority, and 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 Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.) “As a resident of the community most severely impacted by the recent Dan River coal ash spill, I am personally grateful to Sen. Tom Apodaca, who has spent hundreds of hours working on this bill, along with all House and Senate conferees for persevering to get this done.”
“This collaborative coal ash legislation between the House, Senate and Administration to clean up North Carolina’s decades-old coal ash problem will be the first in the nation to address this issue,” said Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg). “This comprehensive plan we have developed for North Carolina will be the foundation of coal ash management across the nation and help safeguard our water for future generations. I want to thank Rep. Chuck McGrady, who is a past president of the Sierra Club, and our other House and Senate conferees for their hard work on this plan.”
Senate Bill 729 sets a firm 15-year timetable for dewatering and closing all unlined coal ash ponds in North Carolina and eliminates the practice of wet ash disposal. The plan requires the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton coal ash ponds to be excavated and closed as quickly as practicable – and no later than 2019.
The remaining ponds will be classified into three categories of risk. Sites determined to be high-risk must be closed within five years (by no later than 2019), intermediate-risk sites by no later than 2024 and low-risk sites by no later than 2029. High and intermediate-risk ponds may not be capped in place – instead, coal ash from those facilities must be stored in lined landfills or recycled toward a beneficial use such as concrete production or roadway construction. And low-risk ponds can only be capped in place if both DENR and an independent coal ash commission agree that this closure method is appropriate and long-term monitoring requirements are met.
Following several days of productive dialogue, conferees agreed to further strengthen the environmental protections related to low-risk sites. The conference report directs that proposed closure plans to cap a pond in place must be designed to prevent future groundwater contamination.
In addition, the bill mandates that all future coal ash disposal must be managed in new or existing lined landfills with extensive groundwater monitoring. It also requires pond owners to divert stormwater away from ash ponds and phase out the disposal of wet ash – the sludge that spilled into the Dan River – within five years. And it immediately makes it illegal to construct or expand wet coal ash ponds statewide.
The bill also:
-Forms a new, independent and specialized Coal Ash Management Commission to review and approve risk classifications and closure plans proposed by owners of coal ash ponds and DENR. The commission will make policy recommendations to the General Assembly to ensure efficient and safe coal ash management statewide. It will consist of nine people with experience in areas such as public health, waste management and conservation.
-Creates up to 30 new positions for the regulation, mitigation and oversight of coal ash management operations – 25 at DENR and 5 staff for the commission. These regulatory positions, along with the commission’s operating expenses, will be funded by utilities with coal ash ponds and cannot be passed on to consumers.
-Keeps and expands on many of the governor’s recommendations, including:
-Strengthening regulations on the use of coal ash as structural fill.
-Requiring utilities to assess and correct existing and future contamination of ground, surface and drinking water, with oversight through DENR.
-Strengthening dam inspection laws, by requiring more frequent inspections and creation of Emergency Action Plans.
-Bans utility companies from recovering costs for the damage caused by coal ash spills, including associated civil or criminal fines.
-Requires utilities to look at markets for innovative commercial uses of coal ash and study technology that could be used to more effectively manage coal ash. And it directs the commission, DOT and other agencies to study ways to recycle coal ash through beneficial use projects.
Office of the Speaker
Rep. Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 3, 2014
House Passes Comprehensive Plan for Coal Ash Management
Raleigh, NC – The NC House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 729, “The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014”, on Thursday in a 94 to 16 bipartisan vote, which requires all coal ash ponds to be cleaned by 2029.
Like the Senate version, the House bill creates a Coal Ash Management Commission to oversee the assessment, planning and clean-up of all coal ash ponds across the state.
Ponds will be assessed and grouped into one of three classifications based upon risk to surrounding water supply. High-risk ponds will be required to be cleaned by 2019.
“We have a responsibility to safeguard North Carolina’s greatest natural resource, our water,” said Speaker Thom Tillis (R – Mecklenburg). “I am proud of our members who crafted this comprehensive bill, and I am confident that this plan will create a framework to protect North Carolinians now and in future generations.”
Other key components of the House coal ash bill include:
- Requires an emergency action plan in the event of a future spill
- Requires every pond in NC to be classified in one of three clean-up prioritization categories
- Mandates a quarterly written report to the Environmental Review Commission and Coal Ash Management Commission on the status of coal ash clean-up
“This coal ash plan is the result of collaboration between the House, Senate and Administration to provide a permanent solution for handling the coal ash that has been generated in our state over the past 80 years,” said bill sponsors, Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg), Rep. Chuck McGrady (R – Henderson) and Rep. Mike Hager (R – Rutherford). “This comprehensive plan we developed for North Carolina will be the foundation of coal ash management across the nation.”
The bill will also encourage the development of creative and innovative solutions for coal ash use statewide while creating parameters that ensure safe beneficial use.
Several changes were made to the Senate version of the bill including:
- Moves the proposed Coal Ash Management Commission to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
- Extends the moratorium for rate cases related to coal ash clean-up to the end of 2016
- Requires DENR to study deadlines listed in the Act and report the findings back to the Environmental Review Commission by the end of 2014
- Shortens the required response time from 30 days to 24 hours to provide potable drinking water in the event of drinking water contamination
Coal ash cleanup was a legislative priority of the House and Senate for the short session. The bill now heads to the Senate for concurrence.
In response to the recent coal ash spill, Representative Lewis would like to ensure everyone that he realizes the urgency of the response and the importance of the issue moving forward. With that in mind, Rep. Lewis will work tirelessly with the leaders in both the House and the Senate to develop a plan going forward that ensures a safer coal ash disposal process across the state. Rep. Lewis feels confident that during the upcoming legislative session work will be done to protect the integrity of the North Carolina’s waterways.
“The damage to the ecosystem as a result of the coal ash spill on the Dan River is both devastating and intolerable. I fully recognize the need for the legislature to act in whatever means possible to ensure we prevent another catastrophe like this adversely affecting our fragile environment,” stated Rep. Lewis.
Finally, Rep. Lewis is committed to protecting North Carolina’s natural resources, including our water supply, and will fully support a thorough evaluation regarding the best way to address the storage of coal ash. We must take the necessary steps so that a disaster like what happened on the Dan River does not happen again, to the extent possible.