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Coal Ash Legacy

It’s never a good time to have an environmental disaster like the one along the banks of the Dan River north of Greensboro. But for state legislators looking to expand natural gas drilling in North Carolina, it was particularly ill timed.

Why should the people of this state open up their water resources to unproven industrial entities when even one of the most storied companies in our history failed to protect a vital public waterway from toxic pollution?

The argument that it’s the price we pay to have heat and lights, not to mention power for our cell phones, televisions and other first world conveniences, just doesn’t cut it when the sacrificial element in the mix is the water we depend on for our very existence.

It’s the height of arrogance among our elected elites that as they push to open up the state to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas they failed to hold Duke Energy fully accountable for cleaning up the 33 coal ash ponds across North Carolina. Thirty-three ponds full of the same coal ash that coated the Dan River when a retention pond, known to have structural flaws, finally gave way, allowing the pollution to enter the river.

The legislature is currently debating a coal ash bill, with competing Senate and House versions headed for a conference committee this week. Critics say the bill is terribly flawed, and only on the table because the issue reaches into the back yard of powerful legislators such as Senate President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger of Eden, who represents Rockingham and Guilford counties.

The House version passed last week drew particular ire from environmental advocates. The bill fails to make Duke Energy and its stockholders responsible for footing the cost of the cleanup, meaning higher rates for the company’s customers will be the answer. The bill also allows coal ash pits to be “capped in place”, according to the League of Conservation Voters, which will leave groundwater exposed to contamination and skirts the definition of a true cleanup.

The more conservative state Senate is unlikely to strengthen the bill, leaving in place provisions that allow for long delays before coercive measures kick in to expedite cleanups and closures.

All of which fails to inspire confidence that the powers that be would be much motivated to action if and when increased natural gas drilling activity in North Carolina creates an environmental nightmare like the one Duke Energy created along the Dan River. !

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