EPA Releases First Nationwide Rules for Coal Ash

CHARLOTTE– The EPA put out new coal ash rules six years in the making Friday.

The rules were first proposed after a massive one-billion ton spill in Tennessee in 2008.

On a call with reporters, EPA Assistant Administrator Matthy Stanislaus called the rules a milestone.

“We’ve assessed over 500 impoundments. We’ve done extensive review of science and data and information submitted to us by over 450,000 commenters,” he said.

Yet they put coal ash in a category that’s something less than hazardous materials. That’s a disappointment for environmental groups.

“What this means is that in broad view, we’ll be regulating it like banana peels and household waste,” said DJ Gerken, a managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville.

It is more complicated than that.

The rules impose structural integrity requirements, groundwater monitoring and operating criteria.

If a coal ash site fails any of that, utilities like Duke Energy are required to close and line them as soon as possible.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says it also increases accountability.

“It requires facility operators to be transparent by posting detailed information online,” said McCarthy.

The state says that’s all monitored by their certified engineers.

For Duke, there are complications.

The state’s coal ash law slates them closing down their final sites in 2029. But state officials say they’ve documented groundwater or clean water act violations in all 32 ash sites.

And now, the EPA rule would require sites with groundwater contamination to close immediately.

McCarthy says all ash ponds will eventually have to be lined.

The rule does, however, allow for the kind of re-use plans Duke’s proposed around the state where they’d take ash from existing sites and move it to new lined fills.

Duke says they’re still reviewing the rules, and they’ll know where it leaves them in early 2015.

It will take some time for all of the rules to be in place.

According to the documents, the first parts will go into effect in six months.

Other parts will go into effect more than two years from now.

- Andrew Sorensen

NC Supreme Court Upholds Redistricting Maps Drawn In 2011

RALEIGH — The NC Supreme Court has upheld the district maps drawn by the Republican legislature in 2011.

The court heard arguments back in January challenging the maps, the plaintiffs claimed they were illegal and showed a racial bias.

They were hoping to force new maps to be drawn for the 2014 election.

But the Supreme Court agreed with the three judge panel that the plan satisfies state and constitutional requirements, and did not violate the plaintiff’s rights.

The maps were used in the 2012 election and are set to stay in effect until 2020.

 

New Abortion Regulations Go Into Effect April 1

RALEIGH — About 75 people turned out Friday morning for the first public hearing on newly proposed rules for abortion clinics.

It’s an emotionally and politically controversial issue that has people on both sides of the abortion debate saying they’re looking out for women’s safety.

Things went very calm and very smooth this morning for the public hearing.

It actually only lasted less than an hour. There were certainly many more comments from people on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

But it was clear – people on both sides of the issue feel very strongly about what rules the state should put in place to protect women considering abortion.

“I know people have complicated feelings about abortion,” said Dr. Amy Bryant.

It was standing room only at this much anticipated public hearing on newly proposed state regulations for abortion clinics.

Kelsea McLain said she’s had an abortion and urged the department of health and humans services to make sure the regulations protect women.

“It is important to me we not put more obstacles,” says McLain.

Many doctors who spoke during the hearing had the same concerns.

“As physician, important regulations stress patient care,” said Bryant.

But pro-life advocates stressed the proposed regulations don’t go far enough to protect women.

And one of the biggest concerns – from people on both sides of the debate – is that the regulations aren’t influenced by political pressure.

“Don’t turn our lives and our experiences into a political football,” said McLain.

The Department of Health and Human Services will accept public comments about the proposed abortion clinic regulations through the end of
January.

Once the department reviews those public comments and approves the regulations, they’ll go to the rules review commission for approval.

Depending on what happens there, it could end up going back to the General Assembly for approval.

But for now, the regulations are scheduled to go into effect April 1.

- Heather Moore

Chatham County Commissioners Reject Duke Energy Coal Ash Plan

PITTSBORO, N.C. — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution opposing Duke Energy’s plan to dispose of coal ash waste in the area.

That plan includes sending nearly 3 million tons of coal ash to the Brickhaven mine in Moncure and the Sanford mine.

The resolution approved by the board says residents would face a higher risk of exposure to cancer-causing toxins during the transportation and storage of the coal ash.

The EPA is set to release its regulations on coal ash management Friday, which could define it as a hazardous waste.

Duke Energy announced plans to clean up its coal ash plants following the massive spill into the Dan River earlier this year.

Capital Tonight Dec. 17: State Budget Director Lee Roberts

On Capital Tonight: We ask State Budget Director Lee Roberts about the budget deficit and when we may see the governor’s budget proposal next year. Our Advocates Becki Gray and Rob Schofield debate the issues of the week. Watch the program here.

Capital Tonight Dec. 16: 2016 Election Projections

On Capital Tonight: Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball joins Tim Boyum to discuss the early outlook for the 2016 elections. Joe Stewart and Morgan Jackson look at a possible Jeb Bush presidential candidacy in our Insiders segment. Watch the program here.

Falling Price of Gas Could Impact NCDOT’s Funding for Road Maintenance

CHARLOTTE — The falling price of gas is good news for drivers, but it may affect the roads they use.

The tax paid on gas is spent on road maintenance and construction. So as the gas prices fall, so does the amount of money going into the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Highway Fund.

“For now, we just can’t tell,” said Warren Cooksey, director of outreach and community affairs for NCDOT Division 10.

Cooksey said the early projections don’t look good, but the department won’t know the full effect of the falling gas prices until months from now.

The state’s gas tax has two components. One is a fixed portion.

“So every gallon of gas, regardless of what the price is, will be charged a 17 and a half cent flat rate,” Cooksey explained.

The second part is variable, based on wholesale prices that can be adjusted every six months.

“So any reductions in the price of gas that we are seeing today, won’t show up in the wholesale gas tax until July 1 of next year,” Cooksey said.

However, the law is designed to avoid a worst-case scenario in the short run.

“If the percentage rate goes under a certain level, there’s a flat rate provision in the law to ensure that the tax revenue just doesn’t plunge in a six month period and put a lot of projects at risk,” said Cooksey.

He said the real concern is funding for the long-term. The revenue from the gas tax has been declining for years and will continue to decline in years to come, which will make it even more critical to find alternate ways to fund the state’s highway system.

For now, it’s business as usual for the NCDOT, as the state continues to look for other ways to fill the fund’s tank.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said because of the shrinking gas tax dollars, the state needs to find other revenue sources for highway projects.

He outlined several alternative funding options, like public-private partnerships, in his 24 Year Vision for the state’s transportation infrastructure.

- Caroline Vandergriff

Capital Tonight Dec. 15: Racial Profiling Bill

On Capital Tonight: Recent protests over grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Miss. and New York City have brought to light issues with police behavior. We talk with Rep. Rodney Moore about his bill to curb racial profiling. Rob Christensen joins the reporter roundtable. Watch the program here. 

New Legislation Aims to Eliminate Discriminatory Profiling

RALEIGH — Members of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus filed in after Representative Rodney Moore Monday afternoon to support his new bill.

“We must do all that we can to make sure we have well-trained officers that understand the mission to protect and serve not just for some interests or some segments in our community, but for all segments of our communities,” said Rep. Moore.

The bill aims to eliminate discriminatory profiling by police officers through mandatory training.

It also calls for the creation of more citizen review boards across the state in order to investigate complaints made against the police.

“We need legislation like this to hold the police accountable. But it is scary right now,” said Jaymes Powell, a supporter of the bill. “It is scary in this state right now to be an African American because if something happens to me on the way home, I doubt anyone would be held accountable.”

The executive director for the NC Police Benevolent Association John Midgette points out it is already against the law for officers to engage in racial profiling.

He said he is in favor of more transparency, if it is done in the correct way.

“The problem is you can’t set up review boards without the same hard standards that officers themselves have to prescribe to. Therefore, you want something that is not a vigilante type board, but one that is rooted in the rule of law,” Midgette said.

He said he understands emotions are high now across the country, but thinks more work needs to be done on the bill before it becomes state law.

“The fact is there is not a wholesale, race based profiling by police against minorities,” Midgette said. “That is not happening in this country. The fact the perception is there opens the door for dialogue to see what we can do better to better represent and protect our citizens.”

Doing better when it comes to representation and protection is something both sides of the issue agree on.

“We owe it to the citizens of our state as elected officials, law enforcement officials and people of goodwill to do all we can to eradicate this problem,” Moore said.

- Amy Elliott

Capital Tonight Dec. 12: Bow Tie Caucus

On Capital Tonight: The Bow Tie Caucus convenes to wrap up a busy week in politics. Bob Orr and Montica Talmadge talk the governor’s lawsuit over separation of powers and more. Watch the program here.