With utility industry groups pressuring the EPA to change regulations on coal ash facility maintenance and cleanup, environmental activists in the Southeast worry that companies won’t be required to take responsibility for long-term monitoring of coal ash ponds and landfills.
Under current state law, Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointments may be subject to Senate confirmation hearings. On Jan. 17, however, Michael Regan was sworn in as North Carolina’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality at a time when the coal ash issue – something his department is largely responsible for – continues to roil the citizenry and generate billion-dollar bills for industry and possibly Duke Energy ratepayers. Since Regan took office, the department has withdrawn from a multi-state lawsuit against his former employer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan. And while DEQ’s Environmental Management Commission has taken a step back from its pending coal ash rule, the Energy Policy Council – revitalized under Gov. Pat McCrory, though previously dormant – has postponed its next meeting twice.
When the EPA strengthened regulations on coal ash disposal in 2015, few legislators foresaw that power companies might choose to send their wet ash across state lines into communities that don’t want the hazardous waste.
Duke Energy’s combination of offers to North Carolina homeowners affected by coal ash pollution is creating confusion, especially for people concerned about giving up their legal rights in the process.
On Dec. 16, and without fanfare, President Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016. Though he didn’t mention it in his official statement, the bill contains an amendment that alters how coal ash will be regulated, with more oversight afforded to the states.
North Carolina officials have delayed a vote on a key coal ash rule amid a dispute over whether state or federal groundwater standards should be part of the rule.
Deadlines in North Carolina’s coal ash law have some worried that Duke Energy may choose recycling options that could leave prospective concrete customers unsatisfied and much of its coal ash inventory in wet impoundments.
While the Tennessee Valley Authority has claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency has “concurred in writing” with its plans to cap some coal ash impoundments, a recent letter from the agency says otherwise.
While the North Carolina Ethics Commission earlier this year dismissed a complaint against Gov. Pat McCrory’s office related to a meeting with Duke Energy officials and other issues, advocates say key questions remain unanswered.
An updated website provides an interactive map of coal ash sites throughout the Southeast as well as information on how utilities are responding to regulatory changes.