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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.

What the NC General Assembly Has Left Pending: Medicaid Overhaul, Coal Ash Clean-Up

Photo: The North Carolina seal in front of the state legislative building
Jorge Valencia

Gov. Pat McCrory has before him an annual spending plan for North Carolina, setting aside money to give public school teachers their first significant pay raise since 2008 - while cutting from public health, childhood development and other programs. McCrory has said he will sign the bill, and lawmakers said they have at least two other major pieces of legislation they will address this year. 

When the officially struck a deal on the $21 billion budget on Saturday, Republican budget writers touted it for improving the state’s teacher salaries, which have ranked among the lowest in the country, as positioning the state to be more competitive to recruit and retain teachers. The plan gives an average of a 7 percent raise, though Democrats say the figure is lower because the calculation includes compensation that’s already given to teachers.

Other Pending Issues At The General Assembly

Making a spending plan was lawmakers’ key objective during the short legislative session. Even-numbered years such as this one are designated specifically for making budget adjustments, but lawmakers have pending two other substantial legislation proposals that they've said were high priorities: engineering an overhaul of the state’s Medicaid system, and outlining a plan to clean up 33 coal ash ponds owned by Duke Energy.

It’s unclear when lawmakers will work on those bills. After they approved a budget this week, House and Senate leaders said they would return to work on Aug. 14 and on Nov. 17 – but they disagree on which matters they’ll address.

Under the plan senators approved before adjourning Friday, they said they would handle the Medicaid and coal ash bills in November. Under a plan representatives approved before adjourning Saturday morning, they said they would work on the coal ash legislation in August and on a Medicaid overhaul in November. Representatives would also pick up bills covering environmental regulations, taxes, economic development, and autism health coverage in August.

As explains it:

[T]he Senate will hold a session on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday. In theory, the two chambers could work out an adjournment agreement and pass it with only a handful of members on hand. Or they could simple walk away from the discussions and leave the session idle, holding skeleton sessions every three days in order to meet constitutional requirements, until Aug. 14. While this half-adjourned status is confusing, it leaves a sliver of hope open that some bills as yet unfinished could see further action this year.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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