NC lawmakers cannot kick Duke’s ash can down the road
Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, writes in the News and Observer today about the need for lawmakers to come up with a plan for dealing with coal ash in NC that hold Duke Energy accountable. They've already warned of rate increases for NC customers if they're required to clean up all of the coal ash sites in NC. That's an unacceptable outcome that's unfair to NC consumers.
Warren lays out a few items that must be included in any serious reform plan,
Legislators must establish a clear framework for Duke Energy’s cleanup of all coal ash sites.
• First, Duke Energy’s shareholders – not its customers – must be held wholly responsible for all costs. For many years, Duke executives and shareholders have profited from the choice to manage toxic coal waste on the cheap. The executives knew for years that the coal ash dumps were leaking toxic chemicals into nearby rivers and groundwater yet allowed it to continue.
The legislature must not punt the financial liability question to the N.C. Utilities Commission. Those regulators would almost surely negotiate a backroom settlement with Duke – one harmful to the public – just as they did in the 2012 merger case and in every recent rate case.
• Second, it is clear that all the coal ash dumps must be cleaned up, including potential detoxification of underlying soil and groundwater. Tom Reeder, director of the State’s Water Resources Division, recently told a legislative committee that all the ash dumps are leaking. Families living nearby, drinking from contaminated wells or eating contaminated fish, are being injured today. As more ash is being added to the dumps at many sites, problems are being compounded.
• Third, the General Assembly must ensure the cleanups begin right away – and are not strung out over a decade. Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has ruled that Duke Energy must take immediate action to clean up the dumps. Duke and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are appealing that ruling.
Cleanup must not be stalled any longer by the utility and its accomplices in state government.
• Fourth, cleanups should not spread this toxic injustice to other communities. Duke is already targeting local governments and private landfills to take millions of tons of coal ash. Cleanup plans need to protect the currently impacted communities, those downstream, communities along transportation routes and any unlucky community where Duke tries to dump coal ash in landfills.
We need to hold Duke Energy shareholders, not customers, responsible for the cost of cleaning up their mess. Given Gov. McCrory's long history with Duke Energy and his regulators cozy relationship, we must keep close watch to ensure we're able to clean up this disaster.