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Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned. It is usually collected in a dump, known as a pond. North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.Many see potential complications because North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

NC Governor Would Get More Authority Over Coal Ash Commission Under House Committee Proposal

Aerial photo: Duke Energy's coal burning facility near Salisbury, N.C.
Waterkeeper Alliance

Members of a North Carolina House of Representatives committee are expected to debate on Wednesday a new proposal to prevent contamination from 33 coal ash ponds Duke Energy owns across the state.

The proposal, which was released to members of the House environment committee on Tuesday, would move a commission overseeing the cleanup under the oversight of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (under a previous proposal, the commission would have been independent) and grants the governor authority to appoint the chair of the nine-person body.

Notably to Democrats and environmental observers who have complained as the Republican-led legislature has grappled with the coal ash issue, the new proposal doesn’t change the Senate’s requirement that Duke deal with its ponds within 15 years. And it doesn’t specify whom – the utility company or its customers – will pay for the expensive process of removing the coal ash.

But at a hearing Tuesday, the key authors of the bill said they were seeking to build on prior proposals from Gov. Pat McCrory and the Senate, which passed a bill and sent it to the House last week. Rep. Mike Hagar (R-Rutherford) told members of the environment committee on Tuesday that, if passed into law, the proposal would be one of the toughest legislations in the country on utility companies with ash ponds from decades of burning coal to generate power.

"If you look through it," Hagar said, "it puts restrictions on future ash disposals, it puts restrictions on wet disposals, it puts restrictions on what you can and can't do at ash, how do you dispose before you're going to dispose of."

Duke’s 33 unlined dumps at 14 coal-fired power plants got the attention of North Carolina lawmakers in February, when roughly 39,000 tons of ash leaked through a collapsed pipe in Eden, N.C., coating 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.

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