This week at the legislature the House took up the Senate budget (S 744) and began marathon meetings to craft their own budgetary proposals. The Senate took a bit of a break and then returned to Raleigh on Wednesday where they were greeted by nearly 80 coal ash lobbyists. Thank you to all the volunteer lobbyists who came to Raleigh to meet with legislators on coal ash lobby day! Lawmakers seemed pleased to have constituents visit and generally expressed support for a strong coal ash bill.
Opportunity for Action
Whether or not you were able to join us for coal ash lobby day – please follow up with your legislators; right now is the key time to make calls and send emails asking for a strong coal ash bill.
Senate Turns to Coal Ash Legislation
The Governor’s coal ash bill (S 729), which was filed by the Senate and the House as a placeholder, was discussed by a skeptical Senate committee on Thursday morning. Senators Tucker, Hartsell, Ford, Bryant, Walters, Rabin, McLaurin and Allran all asked tough questions of DENR Secretary Skvarla regarding a wide range of coal ash issues such as the potential for reuse in concrete, the cleanup timeline, DENR enforcement, pond closure prioritization and public notice. Senator Rabin (R – Harnett, Johnston, Lee) pressed for faster reporting of spills over the “no later than 24 hours” that would be required by the Governor’s bill. And Senator Tucker (R – Union) kicked off a committee discussion about the potential for reuse of ash in concrete; it turns out that North Carolina is actually a net importer of coal ash for that use. There may be potential for reuse of at least some part of North Carolina’s coal ash.
The Governor’s coal ash plan is a first step in the right direction but is inadequate. The plan does not have deadlines for coal ash clean up and identifies only four of fourteen coal plants as sites where coal ash would be removed to lined storage. S 729 does not direct how coal ash at ten of Duke Energy’s plants should be dealt with, so it could be left in place, and continue to pollute groundwater if the bill, as currently written, were to become law. Some key areas that the Sierra Club asked the Senate to address in a revised bill are: the future of coal ash handling; dates certain for removal of ash and closures; and prioritizing and providing effective standards for the closure of all sites. A good coal ash bill should have a timetable, with fixed dates to close out all wet coal ash ponds and to remove ash to dry, lined storage away from our waterways.
As you may recall, Democrats proposed a strong coal ash clean up bill –H 1226 “Coal Ash Management Act”. But the Senate version of the bill was referred to the Rules Committee, usually where bills go to die. The House version was directed the the Committee on Public Utilities and Energy. Leadership determines what bills get calendared for committees – so the Democrats’ bill may not come to a vote.
Fracking and the Senate Budget
Yesterday, Governor McCrory signed S 786, which lifts the moratorium on the issuance of fracking permits in North Carolina. DENR will be able to issue permits as early as this time next year (after rules for the oil and gas industry go into effect). This summer there will be an opportunity to comment on the proposed rules at several public hearings – we will keep you updated on the dates and locations.
The Senate’s proposed budget would put $100,000 in taxpayer funds towards marketing North Carolina for fracking and $973,000 towards shale gas test wells and core sample analysis in the Dan, Davie, Cumberland-Marlboro, and southern Deep basins. Overall this seems like an unnecessary subsidy to the oil and gas industry. If the state is going to invest public funds in an energy sector – why not in solar and wind – given that North Carolina is known to have excellent resources in both?
Thanks again to all the Sierrans who came to the successful coal ash lobby day!
Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations
Sierra Club – NC Chapter