Payment Question is Left Unanswered


Who is going to pay for the clean up of North Carolina’s coal ash ponds? Who will pick up the estimated $2-10 Billion tab? Ratepayers, Duke Energy, or both?

At the close of this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a coal ash bill that should ensure that the most dangerous coal ash ponds will be cleaned up over the next few years. It is a big step for addressing this environmental threat. No other state has taken on the environmental challenge of coal ash management in such a comprehensive way.

Unfortunately, the bill passed with a hole bigger than the one in the rusty pipe on the Dan River. There is no provision to say who will pay for the clean up.

The bill’s sponsor said that issue will have to be taken up later. Why? The stated reason was that a cost provision would have scuttled the bill. Not to worry, we were told, the costs for the clean up won’t come for a few years and we have time to figure it out.

That type of kick-the-can move seems motivated more by the worst elements of politics rather than what’s good for the people. During an election year, politicians are afraid to tell voters that there’s no way Duke is going to pay for it all.

Ever since the Dan River coal ash spill this spring, polls have consistently showed a solid 80% of North Carolinians think it should be Duke’s responsibility to pay for the clean up. In a state as politically divided as we are, that’s as close as we’re going to get to a mandate.

Anyone who has seen the story has scratched their head, wondering “Why in the world did Duke put a pipe to the river right under that pit?” No one wants to pay for someone else’s bad idea.

Even before coal ash clean up begins, the amount you pay Duke is already going up. On the same day that we debated the coal ash bill, the North Carolina Supreme Court released a decision allowing Duke to raise its rates 7.2%. The new rates will bring in $178.7 Million in annual revenue and cost the average ratepayer around $10 per month.

I wanted to support a bi-partisan effort to start the cleanup, but I just couldn’t vote for a bill that set us up for another rate hike just a couple of years down the road.

So why isn’t Duke Energy going to pay for the clean up? Certainly Governor McCrory’s connections to corporation may be part of the reason. But the responsibility for writing the law lies with the General Assembly, and too many of my colleagues are not ready to stick it to one of our largest corporate citizens during an election year when they need big donations.

At some point, the General Assembly will have to answer the question of who has to pay. I’ll get a vote in that decision, and I’ll be voting to protect my constituents’ pocketbooks.

You get a vote too. Your vote happens this November when you decide to vote for legislative candidates who think Duke should pay or candidates who think it’s OK for Duke Energy to pass the costs on to you.

This column was originally published in Graig’s monthly column in the News of Orange.