RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democrats at the North Carolina legislature rolled out a nine-point proposal Thursday to dispose of and monitor coal ash now sitting in pits throughout the state, saying Duke Energy and state officials have waited too long to address their environmental risk.
The party's House and Senate members laid out the framework of legislation they intend to introduce when the General Assembly reconvenes its budget-adjustment session in May. They said Republicans in charge of the legislature should join them given last month's coal ash pond rupture adjoining Duke Energy's plant in Eden, spilling tons of ash into the Dan River. Recent tests show the water has elevated and unsafe levels of some heavy metals.
Democrats blamed state regulators for failing to push Duke Energy to clean up more than 30 ponds at 14 sites sooner and the utility for failing to be more proactive in moving the ash away from water sources.
"It's clear to me that what we have here in all of our coal ash ponds is a flawed design, compounded by flawed regulation and flawed enforcement," said Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard, who represents people living along the Dan River in Caswell County. Coal ash ponds also sit near two power plants in Person County, also in his district.
"It is time to get these things cleaned up," Woodard added.
GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have been addressing the spill and future plans for the ponds. A legislative commission focused on environmental matters discussed the spill and took testimony last month but didn't at its meeting Wednesday. Leaders of the Environmental Review Commission said they were waiting for more information from Duke and other interest groups. Still, it's unlikely GOP lawmakers would embrace the plan offered by the minority party in the legislature.
"The House is not going to offer a knee-jerk reaction on this important issue — it didn't happen overnight and the solution will take time to responsibly work through during the short session," said Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican who lives in Eden, asked the commission soon after the spill to examine coal ash issues. Two key Republican lawmakers last month also announced they would file legislation to clean out the ash dumps. Berger said in a release he was pleased to hear Democrats "finally speak up on this important issue after more than five weeks of silence."
The Democrats' plan also would seek to force Duke Energy to make the company and its shareholders pay for any statewide cleanup, not its customers or taxpayers. Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said last week Duke Energy will pay for the spill cleanup but suggested customers shoulder the cost of disposing what's in other ponds.
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