Images Of Coal Ash Spill Could Not Be Ignored

Images Of Coal Ash Spill Could Not Be Ignored

9:47am Feb 03, 2015
The retired Duke Energy power plant on the Dan River. A ruptured pipe from a coal ash storage bin at the plant ruptured on Feb. 2, 2014, spilling more than 30,000 tons of ash into the river.
WFDD Photo by Paul Garber

The massive spill of nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River promoted outrage and demands for action to protect the state’s waterways. 

The General Assembly’s response was passage of the Coal Ash Management Bill. The landmark legislation will ultimately phase out the use of coal ash ponds. Yet there are critics on both sides of the law.

Robin W. Smith is an environmental attorney and former assistant secretary at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. While there she was responsible for such issues as water quality, drinking water and hazardous waste. She also blogs about environmental issues, including coal ash. 

WFDD’s Paul Garber spoke with Smith about the new law and its potential impact on water quality. Smith says the spill moved the discussion of clean water from the abstract to the concrete after images of the spill were broadcast.

"It really does communicate what those risks are and what the harm can be much more clearly than just talking about it," she says.

Smith says she considers the new law a "huge step forward" to stop the use of coal ash ponds in North Carolina. 

Also, the state established a new Coal Ash Management Commission to provide oversight of the ponds. That sparked some controversy, with Gov. Pat McCrory objecting to how the members of the commission were appointed. Ultimately, the law passed without McCrory's signature.

Smith says the commission could face further debate as they tackle issues such as setting priorities for cleaning up the ponds and directing their closure.

"Those are going to be controversial decisions and those are the commission's decision to make," she says.

Smith says this year the state may make minor tweaks to coal ash legislation to make it in line with federal laws, but she's not expecting any major new initiatives.

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