ROCKINGHAM — State Rep. Ken Goodman doesn’t want Duke Energy customers to get stuck with the tab for the electric company’s coal ash spill cleanup.
A bill requiring Duke to close its North Carolina coal ash pits within 15 years is in the state House after gaining final Senate approval last Thursday. Goodman, D-Richmond, said the bill includes a loophole that could allow the company to charge customers for part of the cleanup and closure costs.
“Unfortunately, Republican senators voted down an amendment that would have ensured that the rate-payers would not have been responsible for any cost associated with closing coal ash ponds in North Carolina,” Goodman said in a statement. “As this bill moves through the House, I will continue to fight to ensure that the costs of dealing with coal ash are paid by Duke Energy and not by the rate-payers.”
Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Hoke, echoed Goodman’s sentiments in a Sunday newsletter to constituents.
While the state Senate worked on the coal ash bill, Sen. Gene McLaurin, D-Richmond, proposed an amendment that would have moved the Yadkin-Pee Dee River to the top of Duke Energy’s priority list for the coal ash cleanup.
Lawmakers did not adopt McLaurin’s amendment, but he noted that it sent a message to the public and to the Charlotte-based electric company, which became the nation’s largest utility after its 2012 merger with Progress Energy.
“This river supplies drinking water to a majority of citizens in my district,” McLaurin said in a statement last week. “I have talked personally to families living nearby the Buck Plant who have experienced higher than acceptable levels of hexavalent chromium and other metals in their well water. They deserve clean water.”
The coal ash cleanup legislation, Senate Bill 729, requires Duke Energy to close its North Carolina coal ash pits by 2029.
McLaurin called the bill a “good-faith first step” to address the spill’s environmental impact, noting that further legislative action may be possible.
“While the amendment failed, I am confident this bill takes the right initial steps toward a comprehensive clean-up of coal ash,” McLaurin said. “For me, this is not about politics. This is about protecting clean drinking water for families in Anson, Richmond, Stanly, Scotland, and Rowan counties. I remain committed to protecting our families and ensuring that the cost of this cleanup does not fall on the backs of hardworking people.”
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.