RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory says he will likely sign a coal ash cleanup bill approved last week by the North Carolina legislature into law, even though he suggested a key provision violates the state Constitution.
McCrory spoke in a televised interview that aired Sunday on the syndicated political talk show NC SPIN. The Republican governor said he may file a lawsuit challenging the establishment of a new coal ash commission to oversee removal or capping of coal ash at 33 open-air dumps operated by Duke Energy.
Under the bill, leaders in the GOP-controlled state House and Senate will appoint a majority of the members on the new nine-member board. McCrory said that as the state's chief executive, he should oversee enforcement of environmental regulations.
"I'm going to have to fight them, from a constitutional standpoint, including even the coal ash commission," McCrory said. "I think this concept of creating commissions that are appointed by the legislature, the majority by the legislature, is unconstitutional, regardless of the subject. Because that means the legislature is doing the operations of state government, which is not their responsibility. I think there is a constitutional issue there."
McCrory didn't express an opinion on whether Duke should be able to raise electricity rates to pay for the cleanup, which the company has said could cost as much as $10 billion. He said that would be up to the N.C. Utility Commission, a board whose seven members are appointed by the governor subject to the approval of the legislature.
McCrory's office did not respond Monday about his intentions regarding the coal ash bill. He could sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
McCrory retired from Duke in 2008 after working there 29 years and the electricity company's executives have remained generous in supporting his political campaigns.
The governor's close ties to the company have triggered criticism from environmental groups over his administration's response to the massive Feb. 2 coal ash spill from a Duke dump in Eden, which coated 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge. The byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity, the ash contains toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic and thallium.
Ethics filings show McCrory owned an undisclosed amount of Duke stock, selling his stake after the spill.
During his comments that aired Sunday, McCrory criticized his former employer's handling of its coal ash waste.
"Duke's got to take care of their responsibility, and they did some shoddy work," McCrory said. "They did some shoddy work with the dams, they did some shoddy work in communications and they did some shoddy work in the infrastructure underneath the dams. And I'm very critical of the way they handled it, but, at the same time, we've got to fix it to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Video of McCrory's interview from NC SPIN is available online at http://bit.ly/1p5Zs4j
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck