Raleigh, and communities across NC—On Thursday, the Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash, a network of communities living with or threatened by toxic coal ash, expressed outrage at the rushed passage of House Bill 630 through the Senate, which they say is a betrayal of residents across NC, and urged the House to vote not to concur. The alliance sent an open letter to the General Assembly last week about their goals and unifying principles for safe coal ash solutions, and they say this bill would fail to address many of their central concerns, while giving Duke Energy everything it wanted.The bill comes at the tail end of the 2016 short session, after a previous bill on coal ash was vetoed by the Governor. Responding to overwhelming public comment against the ‘cap in place’ method of closure that would leave unlined ash in the ground to continue to threaten local groundwater, in May, DEQ ranked all of the company’s coal ash sites ‘intermediate’ or ‘high’ priority, meaning they would have to be excavated and moved to dry storage. House Bill 630 would effectively negate those thousands of public comments, forcing DEQ to rank all but seven of the sites low priority if Duke provides alternate water to well users in the area and makes repairs to the impoundments. It also permanently eliminates the Coal Ash Commission which was originally created by the legislature to provide independent oversight of the agency’s decisions.
Amy Brown, a resident and mother to young children near Duke’s Allen Steam Station in Gaston County, says, “Everybody will get what they wanted except the communities. The hearings were a lot of work, but we all showed up to participate in them because the state told us that was the way to be heard. Yet it’s clear they haven’t heard us. Senate leaders made this bill look like a pretty little package, saying that we are going to get clean water, dangling it like a carrot. But our community knows that we deserve clean water AND a full cleanup of the leaking coal ash pit in our backyard. We aren’t the violator of laws on probation that plead guilty – Duke Energy is. Why should they get the voice in this, and not affected residents?”
Deborah Graham of Dukeville, whose well water contains high levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, takes issue with the promise of clean water in the bill. She says if Governor McCrory, DEQ, and legislators had truly wanted to protect well users near ash pits, they would have forced Duke to provide water long before. Graham also wonders about delays and potential loopholes in the language of the bill that would keep some people from having a safe water solution.
She says, “We have done everything our state asked of us: attended state hearings, made comments, made speeches, did our own research, waited while data came in, gave up our space for water inside and outside our homes. We’ve taken time away from our families to return phone calls, make speeches, help our neighbors, get additional water, travel to Raleigh, and travel to assist each other. We’ve spoken with our local people and leadership in Raleigh, dealing with all the confusion of letters coming from Raleigh giving us mixed messages about whether to drink our water, all while living on bottled water for over 14 months now. We have done our part!”
Roger Hollis, a neighbor of the Cliffside plant in Cleveland County where ash basins are currently ranked intermediate priority, a ranking that Duke Energy had disputed in its comments, says “if they go through with putting in water lines to our community, that’s a great step in the right direction, but it’s a half a step, it’s not getting all the way there by cleaning up the ash.”
Bobby Jones of Down East Coal Ash Coalition in Goldsboro says, “Like so many other Americans, we are preparing for the Fourth of July. The bill has moved on to the House and we, the Down East Coal Ash Coalition, await its vote. We know that Duke Energy is required by court order to clean up the coal ash at the H.F. Lee Plant. The plant that produced the coal ash which has been poisoning our community since 1951. While we are appreciative of that, we are saddened that other communities across the state will not have their coal ash cleaned up because of this bill. We are saddened because they are our neighbors. Saving the lives of our citizens should take precedence over politics, cooperate greed or a campaign donation. We pray that Governor McCrory will stop this harmful bill.”
The bill also fails to address how Duke must dispose of the coal ash that the company does excavate, apart from a requirement for some of the ash to be beneficially reused. If legislators truly wanted to protect communities, they would ensure new coal ash storage sites are on Duke Energy property, so Duke maintains the liability, that they are above ground and completely isolated from ground and surface water, and retrievable so ash can be accessible for re-use when safe technologies are available.
Judy Hogan of Chatham County says, “Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump are very upset that the “solution” the legislature, governor, and Duke Energy are using is to move the toxic ash by train and truck across North Carolina, and siting it so close to the Cape Fear River, protected not all by plastic liners, which will leak. Plus, the old Cape Fear Ponds are leaking badly now, and should be classified high risk, no matter what. Don’t pass Bill 630. It solves nothing.”
Linda Jamison of Semora in Person County, who has coal ash in her backyard, says “I don’t feel that they care about us, not one bit. It’s all about money and not about human beings.” She urges legislators to vote against House Bill 630.
David Hairston of Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup (near the Belews Creek plant says “This bill would not help Belews Creek residents. While we may get water lines, we lose a commitment to real cleanup. Instead of protecting North Carolinians across the state, we get another sweetheart deal for Duke Energy to leave its ash in place where it will remain a threat to our community for decades to come.” Caroline Armijo adds, “At Belews Creek, we already have a capped in place dry landfill that has created a 250 acre plume with arsenic levels of 108 parts per billion; it has been the subject of a lawsuit. Old streams run beneath the coal ash pond, hence the name Belews Creek. The groundwater pollution will not be resolved by capping in place, but only worsen with time.”