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Coal ash bill held until November in 1 a.m. session of North Carolina Senate

Duke Energy and CEO Lynn Good have been subjected to criticism following the February spill of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina.
Duke Energy and CEO Lynn Good have been subjected to criticism following the February spill of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina.Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

In what local newspapers call "late night drama" and "a surprise," North Carolina's state Senate deferred action at approximately 1 a.m. Friday on a much-discussed coal ash bill until November.

A February spill of up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden brought attention to the dangers posed by coal ash ponds around the state and the nation. Legislators such as Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger - a Republican and a native of Eden - quickly vowed legislative remedies and proposed bills at the beginning of the General Assembly's short session.

Environmental groups criticized the House and Senate versions of S729 for not requiring Duke Energy, the owner of the coal-fired power plants in the state, to clean up all of the ash ponds, as well as for negating a judge's order to have the company immediately address groundwater contamination from the ponds. Duke Energy also faced criticism for its handling of coal ash in the wake of the spill.

Despite this controversy, news outlets yesterday reported an end to negotiations between the House and Senate. Today media reported that the disagreement stemmed from a House-backed provision excluding the addition of ponds near "surface waters" to the "low-risk" category. Berger, stating that the provision's results were unclear, called the actions of the House conference committee members "rogue."

House and Senate leaders also provided different stories regarding the conference reports on the bill. Senators showed a conference report signed by their conference committee members and one House conference committee member, while Representative Ruth Samuelson reported receiving no bill. Her committee's report was turned away by Senator Tom Apodaca.

These events culminated around 1 a.m. Friday as the Senate pushed the coal ash bill back into a committee, as well as delaying possible further discussion until the November 17 special session through an adjournment resolution.

Representative Chuck McGrady, a former national Sierra Club president and bill sponsor, commented on the outcome via Twitter, stating, "Very surprised w/ no #coalash bill but that is better than a weak bill. Will have to work on later #ncga".

Recent polling shows decreased satisfaction with Tillis over his handling of the coal ash bill, and a majority of those surveyed wanted tougher legislation. Combined with recent ads regarding House Speaker Thom Tillis' record on coal ash, conflicts between Tillis and Democratic U.S. Senate opponent Hagan on the subject and renewed national interest in North Carolina politics, coal ash may now become an influential factor in the general elections.