Regulatory Reform Act could push coal ash compliance boundaries to property line

Jul 28, 2013

The Regulatory Reform Act – passed late last week by the North Carolina General Assembly – would alter requirements for coal ash ponds like the ones at Duke Energy’s Sutton Plant – just outside of Wilmington.  If the Governor signs the bill, environmental advocates worry that Duke Energy will have more latitude on groundwater contamination.   

The current law requires mitigation action once groundwater is found to be contaminated within 500 feet of a coal ash basin.  But House Bill 74 would allow the Environmental Management Commission to push the acceptable contamination point – what’s called the “compliance boundary” -- to a company’s property line. 

And that concerns Kemp Burdette, Executive Director of Cape Fear River Watch.  Burdette says neighboring properties will no longer be protected. 

“It just allows more contamination.  The other thing is it allows contamination on this guy’s property.  So it allows Duke’s contamination to get to here before they do anything – but when it’s here, it’s already too late.  This guy’s property’s worthless.  If he’s got groundwater contamination, it’s worthless.”

State Representative Chris Millis, a Republican from Pender County, worked on the language in the final version.  He says state government does have a role in regulation for the sake of public health, safety, and the environment. 

“But it’s very important for us to look at the efficiency and the effectiveness of the regulations that we have in the books that put a yoke and a burden on our citizens back home.  And this is exactly what this bill does.  Line by line, page by page, it goes through the effectiveness and the efficiency of our regulatory environment here in this state.”

The General Assembly has completed its session and will return in May of next year -- unless called back to address a Governor veto. 

A spokesperson for Duke Energy says the bill would not change the current compliance boundary without the approval of the Environmental Management Commission; nor is it likely the EMC would adjust those boundaries – given that they haven’t changed in 30 years.

On Friday, July 26th, WRAL reported that the Governor is considering a veto of this bill.