The Coal Ash Management Commission was created by the legislature with the passage of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 to provide an independent review for Duke Energy’s coal ash clean-up process following a 2014 spill, said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, spokesperson for the N.C. Sierra Club, an environmental group.
The law states that the commission is responsible for reviewing the plans put forward by McCrory’s administration to close coal ash ponds and ensure that coal ash near communities is handled in the safest and most proper way.
“The decision to abolish the commission itself raises the question of why doesn’t the McCrory Administration want an independent review of these coal ash closure plans,” Chicurel-Bayard said.
McCrory’s move to abolish the commission comes after the 2015 McCrory v. Berger case that determined the governor, not the legislature, had appointment power for the commission.
Chicurel-Bayard said power companies dispose of coal ash, or the leftover material from power plants burning coal, by dumping it into large pits and mixing it with water so that the ash does not blow away.
But in February 2014, a storm water pipe underneath the coal ash basin at a retired Duke Energy coal plant broke and allowed up to 39,000 tons of coal ash to pour into the Dan River, according to Duke Energy’s website.
Paige Sheehan, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said in an email despite the dissolution of the Coal Ash Management Commission, she does not see Duke’s plan to close ash basins changing.
“Regarding the Coal Ash Management Commission, our position is that we will comply with the rules and laws related to our operations,” she said. “As with any regulation that impacts our company, we’ll welcome clarity and certainty.”
Sheehan said Duke Energy is working to excavate and move all sites it is currently required to under the law.
Chicurel-Bayard said coal ash sites should be moved to landfills with ground water monitoring systems, but without the commission, some pits might receive classifications that would allow them to remain in place and continue polluting ground water.
“The one concern is that without the independent review, some of these coal ash classifications might stand as they are — (the classifications are) put out there by Governor McCrory’s administration,” he said.
As it stands, Chicurel-Bayard said the governor’s actions create more uncertainty about the safety of North Carolina’s drinking water.
“The last thing you want when you’re talking about someone’s drinking water is uncertainty about whether or not it’s safe, and those decisions should be made on science and engineering, not politics,” he said.