MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

Sine die (adverb). Definition: with reference to business or proceedings that have been adjourned with no appointed date for resumption, as in “On Friday, July 2, the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned sine die.”

In this edition of the MountainTrue Raleigh Report – It’s OVER! On Friday, legislators adjourned the short session sine die and headed back home – just in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

Up until the very end of session, there were a number of important bills still up in the air. Some good things happened and some bad things didn’t. Here’s the rundown on the end of session – and our overall take on what The Honorables did and didn’t do this year.

Coal Ash Rests With McCrory


If you remember, Chuck McGrady’s (and others’) coal ash legislation met with the veto stamp earlier this session. A veto override seemed likely, but the Senate stepped in and forged a “compromise” with Governor McCrory.

The new bill eliminates the state’s Coal Ash Commission and requires Duke Energy to provide drinking water either through water lines or filtration systems to residents within a half-mile of the coal ash pits. DEQ will also assess how far contaminants from the coal ash ponds have traveled in groundwater and could be required to take further measures for clean water.

Under the bill, once Duke Energy has provided the water lines or filtration systems to local residents and can certify that it has fixed leaks or problems with dams at a coal ash site, DEQ is required to classify the site as low risk. That designation could allow Duke to cap the site and leave the coal ash in place in unlined basins for the foreseeable future.

MountainTrue and a number of other environmental organizations – as well as Rep. McGrady – opposed this legislation. In our view, this latest coal ash bill guts the criteria the state uses to determine how dangerous the coal ash pits are to surrounding communities.  Unless something changes, the result will be that coal ash pits will continue to pollute our groundwater as well as our rivers and streams.

The bill is now awaiting action by the governor, who seems all but certain to sign it.

Crunching the Budget Numbers

There is plenty of good and bad in the new, $22.34 billion budget. You can read overview stories like this one from WRAL for a sense of the big-ticket items. Here are some provisions of special interest to us:

  • DuPont Recreational Forest receives $3 million in funding for new restroom and parking facilities, as well as a provision that would allow the forest to compete with other parks projects in the annual round of grants from the state’s Parks and Recreational Trust Fund. New staffing positions are also created to help oversee DuPont’s management.

  • The budget restores funding and positions for the Natural Heritage Program, which was reduced by $314,726 in 2015. The revised net appropriation for the program is $764,726.

  • An $8.6M increase for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund is included, bringing the total appropriation for FY16-17 to $22.4 million. That is the single largest appropriation to the CWMTF since 2010.

  • The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust is increased by $1 million.

  • Funding for the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund was maintained, bringing the total appropriation for FY16-17 to $22.7 million.

  • A provision to repeal stream buffer rules, endangering water and habitat, was largely eliminated, but clean up rules for Jordan and Falls lakes in the Triangle were delayed even further.

Things Left On the Table

The two regulatory reform bills – S303 and H593 – died when session ended. That’s good news for those of us who care about the environment.

Some of the items of concern in these bills included:

  • A prohibition on the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) and Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from enforcing air emissions standards that regulate fuel combustion that “directly or indirectly” provides hot water or heating to a residence, or heating to a business.

  • Requiring the EMC to achieve a 3/5 majority to adopt federal new source performance standards (NSPS), maximum achievable control technology (MACT), or hazardous air pollutant standards; and disallows state enforcement of federal standards until the EMC adopts them.

  • Prohibiting stormwater control measures, exempting landscaping material from stormwater management requirements and amending stream mitigation requirements.

H3, the Omnibus Constitutional Amendments bill, was also left on the table as session ended. The bill proposed three constitutional amendments for the November ballot. The amendments concerned eminent domain; the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife; and capping the state’s personal income tax at 5.5 percent (the current cap is 10 percent). Look for the cap on income tax to be a major issue during the 2017 session.

Post Mortem

Judging the 2016 legislative session and its impact on the environment does not lead to clear-cut generalizations.

On the plus side, the state budget makes important – and substantial – new investments in open space preservation, both statewide (with a large bump in funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund) and in western North Carolina (DuPont State Forest).

On the downside, the budget also includes rollbacks on clean water provisions for two of the state’s largest drinking water sources – Jordan and Falls lakes. Here again, however, things could have been much worse, as the original language in the Senate budget would have repealed protections in a number of other river basins. Thankfully, those protections were left in place.

Lawmakers also get high marks (of a sort) for what they didn’t do. A political meltdown that occurred at the end of session meant that two regulatory “reform” bills died when the Senate abruptly ended the session before they could be approved – taking a number of bad policies down at the same time.

Still, it’s hard to give the legislature good grades on anything in light of what it did on coal ash. The revised legislation seriously weakens the protections approved just two years ago.  Perhaps most appalling, the new law allows DEQ to reclassify coal pits all over North Carolina and likely allows Duke Energy to leave the coal ash in place – in unlined pits – instead of moving it to safer, lined facilities.

Overall, we have to give the legislature low to middling grades – at best – this year when it comes to protecting our water, our air and our open space.

That’s probably enough about the General Assembly for now. In future updates, we’ll let you know about some upcoming meetings with legislators we are planning in WNC. And we’ll have news about our plans for the 2017 legislature, which begins in January.  In the meantime, enjoy the summer and the knowledge that the legislature is out of session and can’t do any more damage for the rest of the year.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

On the evening of Tuesday, June 28 the North Carolina Senate rushed through a rewrite to H630, the state’s coal ash cleanup law. This bad coal ash bill is quickly making its way through the legislature and we expect the House to take it up as soon as today.

Please call your NC Representative Immediately and ask them to NOT CONCUR with the Senate’s version of House Bill 630. 

Official statement by MountainTrue Co-director Julie Mayfield:

“The legislature’s rewrite of the state’s coal ash cleanup law is a betrayal of the people of North Carolina. The General Assembly has abdicated its responsibility to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash and protect us from the ill effects of toxic pollutants.

“HB630 would disband the Coal Ash Management Commission and with it any effective oversight of the Department of Environmental Quality, which has a poor record of protecting our communities and our environment. Worse, this new legislation delays final classification for North Carolina’s coal ash pits and completely guts the criteria the state uses to determine the threat of these pits to our communities. The result will leave coal ash in place to continue polluting groundwater, our rivers and our streams.

“The strength of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 (CAMA) was that it used science to guide the coal ash cleanup effort. That science indicated that there are no low priority coal ash sites or low priority communities. Now the legislature wants to scrap the  protections that are based on that science – protections lawmakers themselves have repeatedly touted as ‘the best in the country.’ The legislature’s willingness to weaken laws that protect so many people from such harmful pollution is both bewildering and shameful.”

Read the full text of H630.

H630, as passed by the Senate, would:

  • eliminate the Coal Ash Management Commission and, with it, legislative oversight over the NC Department of Environmental Quality, a deeply politicized agency with a poor track record;
  • eliminate criteria for risk assessment based on a site’s threats to public health, safety, welfare, the environment and natural resources;
  • give Duke two years, until October 15, 2018, to provide clean drinking water to affected households through a water line or filtration device;
  • require that DEQ classify ponds as “low risk” if dams are repaired and public water supply hookups are provided, regardless of whether they continue to pollute ground and surface waters;
  • allow the DEQ to revise and downgrade their classifications of coal ash pits for 18 months, until November 15, 2018;
  • delay closure plans for low and intermediate sites until December 31, 2019; and
  • give DEQ expanded authority to grant variances and extensions to the deadlines above, creating further delay and less accountability for Duke Energy.

The time to act is NOW. Call your representative and tell them that no North Carolina community is a low priority. Tell them to oppose H630.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers

What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers


What The Heck Is Going On In Raleigh Re: Coal Ash? Some Answers

After approving comprehensive coal ash legislation in 2014, a Supreme Court battle in 2015 and an abrupt end to the state’s Coal Ash Commission in 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly took up SB 71 this week to revise the state’s coal ash clean up laws. The bill would reconstitute the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission, extend the timeline for making final classifications of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits and require Duke Energy to provide a permanent drinking water supply for some residents living near coal ash pits.


The Time To Clean Up Coal Ash is Now

Contact your legislators and ask them to reject any changes to the state’s coal ash laws that would allow the current classification recommendations submitted by the DEQ to be revised.

Take Action

The bill’s chief sponsor is Representative Chuck McGrady of Henderson County.

The GOP-controlled House passed SB 71 on Wednesday, May 25 by a vote of 86 to 25 and sent it to the Senate, after speeding the bill through several committees. The Senate could take up the bill as soon as next week. Senate leaders, including Hendersonville Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca, appear to support the legislation but want to fix a largely technical issue with some of the bill’s language.

You can read the current text of SB71 (version 3) here.

Here’s a summary of the major parts of the bill and MountainTrue’s take on each part:

1. Clean Drinking Water. The bill requires Duke Energy to provide a permanent source of clean drinking water to homes where wells are already or will potentially be contaminated by coal ash. Residents whose drinking water is threatened by coal ash contamination will be connected to public water supply, or, where doing so cost is prohibitive, Duke will be required to provide and maintain water filtration systems.

MountainTrue’s Take:
We support the legislature’s efforts to provide a safe, permanent drinking water supply to all residents who are or will be affected by coal ash. (It’s this section of the bill, by the way, that needs fixing in the Senate. An amendment approved during the House debate of the bill inadvertently disqualifies some people from receiving requirement of clean drinking water. Clearly, this mistake must be corrected.) While we support piping in clean water to these residents, requiring Duke Energy to do so does not take the company off the hook for thoroughly cleaning up North Carolina’s coal ash pits; nor should it be used to justify downgrading the risk classification for any coal ash pond.

2. Beneficial Use of Coal Ash. SB 71 requires that Duke Energy find safe, beneficial reuse of 2.5 million tons of coal ash annually, with at least 50 percent coming from existing coal ash pits.

MountainTrue’s Take:
We support a legal requirement that Duke Energy find a safe reuse of coal ash to reduce the amount that must be excavated and stored away from our rivers and drinking water sources. SB 71 specifically and correctly dictates that this coal ash be used to make concrete – a relatively safe application – instead of other less safe products, such as agricultural fertilizer or landscaping infill.

3. Reviving the Coal Ash Commission. The overriding goal of SB 71 is to reconstitute the Coal Ash Management Commission, which was disbanded when the state Supreme Court agreed with Governor McCrory that the commission created under the 2014 legislation violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirement. In response to the court decision, SB 71 gives the executive branch more oversight of the Coal Ash Management Commission. Under the new bill, the governor would appoint five of the commission’s seven appointees, who would be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The previous commission included three members appointed by the Senate, three by the House, and three by the Governor.

MountainTrue’s Take:
MountainTrue supports oversight and review of the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) coal ash cleanup efforts, which have not inspired confidence in the agency’s leadership. The problem is that under SB 71, reconstituting the commission would also provide an opportunity to change DEQ’s recently announced classifications for most coal ash pits in the state. These classifications dictate the level of clean up at each coal ash pit, including whether a pit must be emptied and the coal ash moved offsite or simply capped in place. Many in the legislature believe these classifications are a political stunt by the McCrory administration to appear tough on Duke Energy – and that Duke will find a way around them.  Others believe Duke’s claims that the DEQ classifications will require clean-up efforts that are unnecessarily and prohibitively expensive – and will drive up utility costs for consumers and businesses. We believe these concerns are exaggerated and that, if they prove to be accurate, they can be addressed more narrowly, without revising all of the DEQ classifications.

4. Extended Comment Period. SB 71 reopens the public comment period for the proposed risk classifications for the state’s coal ash ponds until August 1, 2016. Under the proposed bill, DEQ will have until September 1, 2016 to submit new proposed classifications for review by the Coal Ash Management Commission, which is reformed under the legislation. The Commission will have up to 240 days to make a final classification.

MountainTrue’s Take:

We strongly oppose unnecessary delays to the approval of the risk classifications for the state’s coal ash ponds. Under SB 71, final decisions about classifications might not occur until March 2017. That is an unacceptable delay. Duke Energy and the state have been collecting data on coal ash lagoons for years. Earlier this month, DEQ issued its recommended classifications, as required by the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act. The Governor, DEQ and the legislature should accept these classifications. If there is concern about Duke’s ability to meet statutory deadlines for excavation, those concerns can and should be addressed without revising the 2014 legislation altogether.


Bottom Line:

We understand and agree with the motivations of Representative McGrady and other legislators who support this bill, and their desire to help the people of North Carolina who are most directly impacted by coal ash pollution. However, we believe that risks of SB 71 outweigh its benefits. We are concerned that in the process of revising the state’s coal ash laws, the legislature may provide an avenue for the reclassification of many of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits and substantially decrease the quality of their clean up, including the number that are required to be excavated rather than simply capped in place.  If there is concern about Duke’s ability to meet statutory deadlines for excavation or other requirements of the Act, those concerns can and should be addressed without running the risk of revising the entire classification process for most of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits.

Making Your Voice Heard

The legislature’s review of SB 71 is ongoing but moving quite quickly. North Carolinians who want to have their voices heard on this important legislation should act now.

We encourage you to contact your legislators and ask them to reject any changes to the state’s coal ash laws that would allow the current classification recommendations submitted by the DEQ to be revised.

Click here to take action.

If you have questions about this issue or MountainTrue’s coal ash work, please contact Joan Walker, Campaigns Director at joan@mountaintrue.org or 828.258.8737 x205.



Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Yet Another Environmental Rollback

Yet Another Environmental Rollback

Yet Another Environmental Rollback

North Carolina lawmakers are targeting electronics recycling and energy efficiency requirements in their annual regulatory reform bill HB169. This bill is expected on the Senate floor next week proposing rollbacks on environmental rules.

Highlights from the bill that negatively impact our environment:

  • A repeal of our state’s electronic recycling program, allowing electronics to be deposited in landfills.
  • Lifting the ban on the sale of turtles as pets.
  • Burke, Cleveland, Robseon, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry and Wilkes counties are among the list of counties that will no longer have to require vehicle emission inspections.

MountainTrue does not support this bill and believes that many of its provisions are wrong for our state and our region.

Tell your state legislators that you do not support House Bill 169 and its environmental rollbacks!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

A Centennial Gift for National Parks

A Centennial Gift for National Parks

A Centennial Gift for National Parks

 

Did you know that our national parks are plagued by air quality problems? In some parks, air quality can be just as bad or worse than many major U.S. cities, posing a huge threat to our wildlife, plants, water and visitors to the parks.

 

The Obama Administration is proposing a set of revisions to improve the Regional Haze Rule, a rule under the Clean Air Act that requires the restoration of naturally clean air to national parks and wilderness areas. The new proposal calls for enhancing state accountability for reducing pollution that contributes to national park and wilderness air quality problems, but there are also shortfalls in the proposed revisions that could negatively impact air quality in our parks. The potential of the Regional Haze Rule could be overshadowed by the ability for delayed air clean up and weakening of the EPA to hold states accountable for their air pollution.

This year is the centennial of the National Parks Service. Leave a cleaner legacy for the parks by pushing the Obama Administration to close loopholes in the Regional Haze Rule to guarantee the best protections for our parks.

Read more about the proposed updates to the rule.

Tell the EPA that you want the Regional Haze Rule improved and strengthened to protect air quality in our parks!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Make Duke Energy Pay for You to Save!

Make Duke Energy Pay for You to Save!

Make Duke Energy Pay for You to Save!

Energy efficiency can come in many forms in the public and private sector. If you are a Duke Energy customer in Western North Carolina, MountainTrue wants to help you save money and energy in your home. Whether you are a Duke Energy Progress customer or a Duke Energy Carolinas customer, there are several ways that you can implement energy efficiency upgrades in your home with monetary help from Duke Energy. Do not let your money sail out of the poor insulation in your attic or get flushed away by your old, high water usage toilet. Simple weatherization by sealing all the cracks and holes in your house can take up to $480 annually off of your utility bills and there are other programs that can also save you money on your annual bill.

It can be hard to figure out where to start with energy upgrades, so we have created a guide that will help you navigate the different programs that Duke offers. Download it here!

If you need help understanding your options to save energy and money, email Joan Walker at joan@mountaintrue.org or call (828) 258-8737 x 205.

Additional Resources


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.