More is needed with coal ash bill

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 04:10 AM

In 15 years, the North Carolina Senate wants Duke Energy to rid the state of all 33 coal ash ponds — including ones located at the Cliffside Steam Station.

Legislation proposed Monday and moved to the Senate floor Tuesday would require the closure of all coal ash ponds as well as stipulate Duke Energy could not pass the cost of those closures on to the customer.

The problems with coal ash isn’t new. Power companies have burned coal to generate electricity and cooled off the ash with water and moved that ash into ponds for nearly half-a-century.

It wasn’t until February when the Dan River became infected with tons of coal ash after a pipe under a coal ash pond failed, releasing the toxic sludge that the Senate started to take notice of the potential problem.

But now, all of the sudden, it is a problem.

Even the Senate proposal falls short of completely ridding the state of coal ash.

Only at some higher-risk ponds would Duke have to completely dig out the coal ash and either move it to a different storage area or find another use for it.

With the remaining, lower-risk ponds, the ash can simply be covered up with dirt and monitored for potential leaks.

That is certainly no sure-fire way to ensure coal ash doesn’t make its way into North Carolina water supplies.

“The big picture of our proposal is that it dries out and closes each pond,” State Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, said when presenting the 44-page proposal on Monday. “It stops the disposal of wet coal ash and requires future coal ash to be put to a beneficial use or to a lined facility.”

Again, not nearly enough.

Don’t misinterpret, it’s a good first step to keeping our environment — mainly our water — safe from potential hazards but it could be much better.

To make the bill even stronger, the Senate should consider removing all coal ash from the state entirely, not just cover it up and hope for the best.

The state can provide incentives to companies repurposing coal ash for better reasons such as using it in concrete.

We do applaud the Senate measure in its aggressive timeline. Duke Energy officials said it would take “up to 30 years” to move coal ash from its largest pond but the Senate bill gives Duke just 15 years to mitigate all of its coal ash ponds.

More can and should be done, however.

As this bill moves through the debate process on the floor, we hope senators take a tough stance on this potentially dangerous environmental issue and give this bill some real teeth.

By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board


The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Tom Padgett and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark