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The General Assembly of North Carolina on Wednesday ratified a bill to protect drinking water for residents in close proximity to coal ash impoundments.
Senate Bill 71 enjoyed strong bipartisan support from lawmakers and strengthens North Carolina’s 2014 Coal Ash Management Act. The bill also reconstitutes the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission, intended to oversee future impoundment closures and their effects on customers’ utility bills.
The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 required owners of coal combustion residuals (CCR) impoundments to analyze the quality of wells supplying drinking water in areas surrounding coal ash ponds, and to provide alternative sources of drinking water for wells that fell short of certain quality thresholds. While the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) determined that drinking water from wells in close proximity to coal ash ponds met federal safety standards, North Carolina’s General Assembly nonetheless recognized that “confusion and worry has persisted with these residents in the aftermath of testing” as precipitated by “Do Not Drink” advisories issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, but later withdrawn.
Wednesday’s new bill differs from its predecessor in that it does not establish failed drinking water tests as a prerequisite for the mandatory supply of alternative water sources. Rather, the bill now mandates that owners of coal ash ponds execute a binding agreement with the DEQ to establish permanent replacement water supplies, preferably by connection to a public water supply, for every household with a drinking water well within a half mile of an impoundment. The bill also mandates drinking water replacements for any well which might be contaminated by the underground migration of pollutants from nearby impoundments, as determined by groundwater modeling and hydrogeologic inspections of a site.
The bill has a compliance deadline of October 1, 2017.