Senate spokeswoman: Coal ash veto override vote unlikely


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina legislative leaders won’t try for now to cancel Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto that blocked the resumption of a commission managing the cleanup of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits.

A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger confirmed the alternate direction Thursday, a day after representatives of Duke Energy — including the CEO— visited the Legislative Building to discuss coal ash and other industry issues. The nation’s largest electric utility had said it supported the legislation, which also set a timeline on agreements for Duke to get piped drinking water to people living near the pits.

“The purpose of the meeting was to inform Duke it is unlikely the Senate will act on the company’s request to override the governor’s veto,” spokeswoman Shelly Carver wrote in an email, adding that “we are working with the governor on a resolution that addresses his concerns, avoids a long legal battle and delivers clean drinking water to impacted individuals quickly.”

McCrory vetoed Monday the legislation, which was originally approved by the House and Senate by comfortable veto-proof margins, including 46-1 in the Senate.

But senators didn’t schedule an override vote this week. McCrory’s administration earlier telegraphed it would sue to challenge the commission’s composition, just like the governor successfully did with the legislature original 2014 commission. The state Supreme Court cited in part that a majority of commission members had been appointed by legislative leaders.

Five of the reconstituted Coal Ash Management Commission’s seven members would be chosen by the governor. But McCrory said it still crossed the line of legislators controlling executive branch duties. His office didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request seeking reaction to the Senate’s decision.

Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said Thursday the company looked forward to working with the General Assembly, McCrory and anyone else looking for “common sense solutions that offer the widest range of options to protect the environment, people and their pocketbooks.”

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who shepherded the bill in the House, said he would work as well toward a resolution similar to what Berger is seeking.

Before Thursday’s statement from Berger’s office, another leading senator had suggested the override could still go forward. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, described the effort to cancel McCrory’s veto as being in neutral.

“The train is sitting on the tracks running at this point, but it’s not moving,” he said.

The commission is designed to affirm or modify decisions by Department of Environmental Quality regulators in evaluating the risk of coal ash basins. Those classifications in turn direct whether ash sitting next to former and current coal-ash power plants would have to be excavated or could remain in place.

Lawmakers believed they were on solid ground legally with the updated commission, and have been firm in arguing a separate panel is needed to keep tabs on the ash cleanup. The commission’s chief job would be to sign-off on risk classifications for most of the ash pits. They also were anxious to have a second set of eyes on the work since McCrory had worked for Duke Energy for nearly 30 years.

Another protracted legal battle could have delayed efforts to help hundreds of homeowners living around the pits to get permanent drinking water. The legislation directed Duke to come up with plans to pipe drinking water to affected residents by late 2017. DEQ has said it had a proposal to get permanent water hooked up in 18 months. There have been mixed messages sent to the residents about whether their groundwater supplies were safe.

DEQ regulators issued their risk classifications last month that would require all of Duke Energy’s more than 30 ash pits to be shoveled and moved by 2024. Duke wants to leave most of the pits in place, essentially putting lids on them instead. Any cleanup is expected to cost billions of dollars and would be paid for by utility customers.

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