ROCKINGHAM — A House vs. Senate stalemate over the Duke Energy coal ash spill cleanup shows deep division among Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly, state Rep. Ken Goodman said.
Conference committee leaders couldn’t agree on last-minute changes to the coal ash cleanup bill Friday, and the chambers adjourned last week without advancing any legislation on the matter to Gov. Pat McCrory. Each chamber blamed the other for the impasse.
“The coal ash problem is a very serious problem that we know needs to be dealt with,,” said Goodman, D-Richmond. “The fact that we couldn’t come up with something really speaks to a lack of leadership, in my opinion.”
House negotiators added a definition to the bill that would outline how cleanup priorities would be assigned to coal ash spill sites. Senate leaders balked, accusing the House of giving McCrory’s administration too much oversight.
Goodman said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, accused House leaders of “going rogue” and refusing to sign a conference report. House conference members responded by dropping a signed report on Apodaca’s desk, Goodman said.
In the standoff over new language added to the bill, Goodman said the House blinked first.
“The House said, ‘We want to do this,’” Goodman explained. “‘We will even pass your version.’”
But the Senate adjourned early Friday without signing off. The House adjourned Saturday after holding the second of two votes to pass a $21 billion compromise budget, which McCrory has pledged to sign.
Lawmakers will return to Raleigh on Aug. 14 and are expected to take up the coal ash bill in November.
“It seems we’re going to come back in November — after the election, conveniently — to deal with this,” Goodman said.
Analysts say politics play a role in the bickering between the Senate and House, both of which have Republican supermajorities. House Speaker Thom Tillis has strengthened his ties to McCrory since mounting his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Goodman said.
“There’s just animosity between the Senate leadership and the governor, and Tillis has tried to work more with the governor because of his political situation,” said Goodman. “It’s just a mess.”
Infighting between GOP leaders has been a recurring storyline since the short session convened in May. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said election-year politics made it increasingly difficult to move legislation.
“This is the worst session I’ve been in,” said Goodman, who is running unopposed for his third House term. “It’s just been ridiculous.”
Goodman said Republican leaders passed a Band-Aid budget that touts teacher raises but shortchanges experienced educators, since longevity pay is folded into the salary increases.
“The budget we passed, in my opinion, is just awful,” he said. “There is not enough money to sustain the budget.”
Duke Energy estimated that 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled from containment ponds into the Dan River in February. The waste generated by coal-burning power plants, coal ash contains cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals including arsenic and mercury.
The spill could have statewide environmental implications, and Richmond County lawmakers have repeatedly expressed concerns. Goodman supported Sen. Gene McLaurin’s amendment to move the Yadkin-Pee Dee River to the top of the list for coal ash cleanup sites. That amendment, filed late last month, was not adopted.
In a Friday executive order, McCrory directed state regulators to monitor the coal ash cleanup and enforce all applicable laws. Environmental groups dismissed the order as political showboating since no new policies had been enacted.
Goodman said lawmakers owe it to the state’s residents to pass a comprehensive coal ash cleanup plan. Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, agreed.
“Passing legislation to clean up after the disastrous coal ash spill in January should have been one of the first bills we sent to the governor this session,” Pierce said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to ensure our drinking water is safe and that Duke Energy does not pass the cost of cleaning up North Carolina’s coal ash ponds onto their consumers.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.