NC votes to regulate coal ash

North Carolina lawmakers have voted to regulate coal ash, the toxic, sludge-like byproduct of coal burning that leaked into a state river six months ago.

The legislation, which passed both houses of the state legislature Wednesday, is the first of its kind in the country, the Raleigh News-Observer reported.

If Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signs it, it would ban Duke Energy Corp., the state’s electric utility, from building or expanding unlined ponds to store coal ash. Current ponds would either have to be capped or moved to lined landfills within the next decade, depending on the risk of leaks.

A point of contention for lawmakers was the extent to which Duke customers would bear the costs of cleanup, the News-Observer said. Duke is only temporarily banned from passing the estimated billions of dollars of costs onto customers under the legislation.

Duke keeps coal ash in 33 open pits at 14 sites in North Carolina.

The coal ash spill earlier this year into the Dan River renewed national attention on the substance, which consists of fine particles that could include arsenic, lead, boron, chromium and other toxic compounds.

The Environmental Protection Agency is due to decide whether to regulate coal ash nationally in December. But environmentalists have also called for state action while the EPA decides.