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By Marti Maguire
RALEIGH, N.C., June 25 North Carolina's state
Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill calling for the
closure of Duke Energy's 33 coal ash ponds in the state
within 15 years, legislation spurred by a massive spill at a
retired power plant earlier this year.
Members of the chamber touted the measure as the nation's
toughest law regulating coal ash, a byproduct of coal-based
power production that contains toxic materials such as arsenic
"This is a change that's going to have North Carolina
leading the country when it comes to getting rid of coal ash,"
said Republican state Senator Tom Apodaca, who sponsored the
Environmentalists raised doubts, however, that the
provisions are strong enough to put a dent in the nation's coal
The clean-up plan uses a tiered approach to dictate when
ponds at 14 sites statewide must be closed. At the most
dangerous sites, including four named in the bill, coal ash
would have to be moved to lined landfills or reused as building
material by 2019.
At sites deemed less dangerous, the cleanup requirements are
less stringent and less urgent. Critics of the bill took issue
with a provision that would allow the ash to be capped and left
in place at sites deemed low risk.
"It is really leaving the polluting coal ash in unlined pits
next to waterways," said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the
Southern Environmental Law Center.
California-based nonprofit Earthjustice, which tracks coal
ash sites and is pushing for federal oversight, says more than
200 of the nation's 1,400 coal ash sites have contaminated
At least 30,000 tons of coal ash were released into the Dan
River when a pipe broke under the 27-acre (11-hectare) ash pond
at a retired plant owned by Duke Energy in Eden, North Carolina,
in a spill discovered on Feb. 2.
The Senate bill mandates water quality monitoring around all
the state's coal ash pond sites and exploration of methods to
reuse coal ash. The measure did not require Duke to pay for
clean-up costs rather than passing them on to customers.
A Duke Energy spokesman called the timeline set by the
Senate "incredibly aggressive," cutting in half the years the
company has proposed for clean-up.
Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican and former Duke
executive, has voiced support for a House bill similar to the
version passed by the Senate. The two chambers must agree on a
final version before seeking McCrory's signature.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)