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The General Assembly will make a second attempt at coal ash legislation rather than try to override a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory of legislation passed last month.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the first bill’s main author said Thursday that he is working on new legislation bill in consultation with Senate negotiators and representatives of the governor’s office.
In an email response to Carolina Public Press, McGrady said he expects to start reviewing a new draft with stakeholders next week.
“I expect a new coal ash bill will be heard in the next week or 10 days, probably in a House committee,” McGrady said. “I’m already working with staff to craft a new bill and am already reaching out to stakeholders — the environmental community, Duke Energy, the cement manufacturing industry, DEQ, coal ash activists and others.”
The fate of earlier coal ash bill, which was vetoed by the governor on Monday, took a decided twist late this week after Senate leaders announced they would not push to override the veto despite the bill having passed both chambers of the legislature with strong majorities.
That bill, SB71, was put together by McGrady in consultation with Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and other Senate leaders in response to the governor’s decision in March to disband the Coal Ash Management Commission. McCrory successfully challenged the constitutionality of the commission, which was set up under the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act and had a majority of members appointed by the legislature.
McGrady and others wanted to re-establish the commission to provide an extra layer of oversight on the closure of more than 30 Duke Energy coal ash basins at 14 sites around the state. The bill, which was passed May 31, increased the number of members appointed by the governor and also required Duke Energy to begin running waterlines to residents whose wells were located near coal ash basins.
But the changes did not satisfy the governor’s concerns and McCrory vetoed the bill.
In a statement issued along with veto, McCrory said the bill was “not good for the environment or for the rule of law” and that the coal ash commission and two other commissions similarly set up by the legislature still violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirements.
During hearings on the first coal ash bill the governor’s chief legal counsel told legislators that McCrory would not only veto the bill, but would likely file another court challenge.
The vote to override McCrory’s veto was delayed this week and now appears to be on permanent hold.
Apodaca told Carolina Public Press Wednesday that the Senate had the votes for an override, but had not scheduled it for this week. Later that day, Senate leader Phil Berger met with officials from Duke Energy. The company had urged legislators to override the veto.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for Berger said the Senate was in discussion with officials from Duke Energy on a possible compromise and an override vote was off the table.
“The purpose of the meeting was to inform Duke it is unlikely the Senate will act on the company’s request to override the governor’s veto, and that we are working with the governor on a resolution that addresses his concerns, avoids a long legal battle and delivers clean drinking water to impacted individuals quickly,” Berger aide Shelly Carver said in an email.
McGrady said he agrees with trying to find a solution that doesn’t involve another court battle between the governor and the General Assembly.
“I’m supportive of pursuing a settlement of our differences with the McCrory administration over the coal ash bill,” McGrady said in his email to CPP. “I think it is important that we get clean water to everyone in close proximity to the coal ash basins, and avoiding litigation may make this happen quicker.”
Thursday night, McGrady posted on Twitter that the new bill would include the plan to pipe water to residents near the basins and expand the use of coal ash in concrete.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, which has represented environmental organizations and residents in the fight to clean up the coal ash basins, had urged McCrory to veto the first bill in part because it reopened the process for classifying the coal ash basins. The Department of Environmental Quality announced last month that the it would require coal ash removal for all the basins.
Frank Holleman, SELC’s senior attorney in the coal ash cases said earlier this week that there shouldn’t be further delays in the clean up.
“This power struggle by politicians in Raleigh does not stop or clean up pollution from Duke Energy’s unlined, leaking coal ash pits across North Carolina,” Holeman said in a statement released after McCrory’s veto was announced.
“North Carolina families have spoken loud and clear: Duke Energy’s arsenic, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and countless other pollutants do not belong in our groundwater, rivers, lakes, or drinking water supplies. Thousands of people have demanded that Duke Energy remove its coal ash from unlined, leaking pits to safe dry, lined storage or recycle it into concrete.”
Among the sites affected by the state’s coal ash policies are two locations where some of Duke Energy’s coal ash has been stored in unlined basins in Buncombe County near the Henderson County line and in Rutherford County near the Cleveland County line. The Buncombe site is adjacent to the French Broad River and the Rutherford site to the Broad River.