by Billy Ball
It may not matter much in the end, but Chatham County commissioners have unanimously adopted a resolution opposing Duke Energy's plans to dump 3 million tons of potentially toxic coal ash in abandoned brick mines in Moncure and Sanford.
Board members called on state lawmakers to act to suspend the energy giant's proposal to dump in Chatham and Lee counties, which could be cleared as soon as early 2015.
However, as reported in the Indy last month, this year's Coal Ash Management Act leaves local government authorities virtually no decision-making power in the plan. State law allows the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to grant the necessary permits to Duke. Also, the law specifically forbids local government ordinances intended to block coal ash dumping.
Both Chatham and Lee leaders have said they plan to fight the company's proposal, with Lee County Manager John Crumpton not ruling out legal action in the process.
Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Crawford said the two counties south of the Triangle are "being asked to assume a disproportionate risk in this current plan."
"The N.C. General Assembly, in its haste to prod Duke Energy to action, effectively stripped local authorities of any power to safeguard the health of our citizens," said Crawford. "Neither can we collect fees to offset costs imposed on local governments. This is politically and economically unfair."
The Indy reported last week that the plan could absolve Duke of any legal liability for environmental impacts stemming from the dumping, likely passing on the cost to the owner of the brick mines, a relatively unknown corporation named Green Meadow LLC. If Green Meadow can't pay the cost of environmental damage, legal experts said the liability could fall on the state and local governments.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Jabon told the Indy that its proposal is part of a "comprehensive" plan to safely dispose of the coal byproduct, which contains carcinogens such as arsenic.
"We feel a responsibility for the safe and permanent storage of the coal ash, which is why we've partnered with experienced vendors," said Jabon.