North Carolina House Leadership Pushes Weak Coal Ash Bill Forward

by Caroline Hansley

July 2, 2014

People in canoes maneuver in the Dan River where a coal ash spill discolored the river in Eden. Duke Energy said that 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released through a broken stormwater pipe from a 27-acre unlined pond at the Dan River Steam Station which closed in 2012.

© Jason Miczek / Greenpeace

Only five months ago Duke Energy was responsible for the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. North Carolina residents have made it clear they want Duke to pay for its coal ash problem. Yet once again, state legislators are failing to heed the peoples call. And once again, Dukes corrupting influence is part of the problem.

Yesterday, the North Carolina House Environment Committee forwarded Senate Bill 729, the General Assemblys proposal for handling coal ash from Duke power plants. Its a negative development, as the bill contains major weaknesses. Only 4 of the Dukes 14 coal ash sites would be guaranteed to be cleared out and moved to properly managed sites. The remaining sites could be left in place to pollute neighboring groundwater. To make matters worse, the bill allows Duke to recover costs for the entire cleanup through the North Carolina Utilities Commission (estimated at around $10 billion).

Dukes corrupting influence continues to put polluters over people. This round centers around the Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-NC91).

Tillis Leading for Duke & Not North Carolina

Elected as a member of the Republican majority, Speaker Tillis holds a powerful role in the House. In particular, he sets the agenda for the debates across the entire chamber. If Tillis likes a bill, its chances of passing greatly increase. That fact played out when Tillis endorsed Governor McCrory backed bills at a joint press conference where they failed to propose tougher coal ash regulations.

But Tillis is also set to be a powerful ally of Duke. The company is Tillis second largest donor outside himself, contributing $34,250 to Tillis over his career. Tillis also sits on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a bill mill that ghostwrites legislation in favor of member corporations such as Duke. (Duke will not confirm or deny whether is it still a member of ALEC, though it has been in the past and the two march in lockstep together on many energy issues.) ALEC helped Duke block EPA proposals for coal ash regulation following the nations largest ever coal ash spill in Tennessee. And with Tillis running the NC House, ALEC is once again poised to hold back necessary protections from coal ash.

A recent poll found that 82% of voters would have good reason to vote AGAINST a candidate who allows Duke Energy to pass the cost of cleaning up its coal ash sites to its customers or the public. That result should worry Tillis, who is running for election to the U.S. Senate this November. If the speaker cant put people over polluters, the people could find someone else who will.

Caroline Hansley

By Caroline Hansley

Caroline is a proud native North Carolinian and NC State alumna. She works as a Field Organizer in the Triangle area on getting to 100% clean, renewable energy.

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