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Gov. McCrory Vetoes Coal Ash Bill

 Gov. PatMcCroryhas followed through on his threat to veto a bill revising the state's coal ash cleanup law. In a statement Monday night,McCrorysaid the bill's attempt to revive the Coal Ash Management Commission was unconstitutional. He also said the bill weakens environmental protections.

“This legislation is not good for the environment or for the rule of law in North Carolina,” McCrory said in the statement. “This bill lacks a firm deadline to connect well owners to alternate water supplies.”

But the battle is far from over. Senate Bill 71 easily passed both the House and Senate last month, with more than enough votes to override the veto. 

Lawmakers passed the Coal Ash Management Act in 2014, after a major coal ash spill at Duke Energy's Dan River plant, in Eden. The bill set up a process for rating Duke's coal ash storage ponds, and set deadlines for cleanups.  

It also established the Coal Ash Management Commission, to oversee cleanups. But the governor objected, because a majority of the commission's members were appointed by the legislature.McCrorysued and the state Supreme Court agreed, declaring the commission unconstitutional.

Duke Energy supported the bill. In a statement last night, the company criticized the governor's veto.

"We don’t understand why the governor would veto a bill that makes North Carolina’s Coal Ash law even stronger. Very importantly, it reconstitutes a commission that will evaluate the safety and cost of any closure plan on customers." 

"The legislation gives our state the flexibility to make better basin closure decisions based on new information and the completion of facility improvement projects. Senate Bill 71 also encourages safe recycling of coal ash, which is non-hazardous, and gives plant neighbors certainty about their water quality," the Duke statement said. 

The bill also includes a requirement that Duke provide a safe, permanent water supply to plant neighbors concerned about their wells - something Duke had proposed. 

And it would set aside state regulators' ratings of coal ash sites, giving Duke more time to devise cleanup plans. 

Duke is under court orders to excavate coal ash at seven of its 14 current and former coal plants. The state Department of Environmental Quality last month had ordered ash removed at the other seven. But the DEQ had asked legislators to revise the law so it could revisit its coal ash risk ratings in 18 months.

Duke would like the option to leave ash where it is at some plants. 

Environmentalists opposed Senate Bill 71, saying it could delay cleanups and allow Duke to avoid removing ash from its sites. 

Copyright 2016 WFAE

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including DavidsonNews.net and The Charlotte Observer.
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