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NC lawmakers reach compromise on coal ash measure

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm •  Published: August 19, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — State House and Senate leaders said Tuesday that lawmakers have reached a compromise on legislation to make Duke Energy curb pollution from its 33 coal ash dumps across North Carolina.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Phil Berger announced their chambers reached an agreement they said would give the state the strictest regulations on coal ash disposal in the nation. The legislation would require closure of all unlined coal ash ponds within 15 years.

The bill is expected to go to a floor vote in both chambers Wednesday, shortly before legislative leaders say they intend to adjourn for the year.

GOP leaders have been saying for months that passage of a cleanup plan is among their top legislative priorities, but as recently as last week appeared ready to go home for the year without passing it. Negotiations between the House and Senate attempting to reconcile their competing versions of the bill broke down in late July.

Failure to take action would present a significant political liability headed into the November elections. Lawmakers have been under significant pressure to pass legislation in response to a February spill from a Duke plant in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.

Coal ash contains such toxic chemicals as arsenic, mercury and lead. State regulators have previously conceded that all of Duke's leaky unlined ash dumps in the state are contaminating groundwater.

Last month's impasse came down to a single provision in the voluminous bill defining which "low risk" ash dumps Duke would be allowed to cap with plastic sheeting and dirt. Environmentalists want all the ash dug up and moved to lined landfills away from rivers and lakes.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, one of the lead House negotiators on the bill, said Tuesday that the version now under consideration is significantly stronger than past versions of the bill, requiring Duke to dig up and remove ash from low-lying dumps near waterways if there is significant risk of groundwater contamination.

"There will be more sites that will not be capped in place," said McGrady, R-Henderson. "More sites will be cleaned up, clearly, under the criteria we've put in the bill."

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