State Bill 729 is the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, which calls for Duke Energy to remove or close all of its 33 coal ash dumps ("ponds") by 2029. The bill, currently making its way through the State Senate, also requires several "high risk" sites (including the local Sutton Lake site and the Dan River site) to be removed within 5 years. Intermediate-risk sites will have to be removed within 10 years and low-risk sites will have to be removed or "closed" within 15 years. "Closing" a coal ash dump means that the site is capped and left in place.
Duke Energy, the largest power company in the U.S, has suggested that they need 30 years to close or remove all the sites and that this will be a very expensive venture, given that there is roughly 100 million tons of coal ash to be dealt with across the state. The bill prohibits the costs from being passed to taxpayers, but leaves room for Duke to increase utility rates to offset the costs. I think we can all expect to pay more for electricity soon.
Environmental groups are saying that this is a step in the right direction, but it could still allow for pollution of ground water, given that all of Duke's14 power plants and all 33 coal ash ponds are located near rivers or lakes that supply drinking water to municipalities. The bill allows some coal ash to be stored in unlined landfills or stored on site.
Coal ash contains numerous toxins, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, lead and mercury. Selenium pollution from coal ash in Sutton Lake has been linked to fish deformities and premature mortality according to a study by Wake Forest University Professor Dennis Lemly. More on that story here. Note the economic values attributed to the fish loss, and the use of "replacement cost" values as an indicator of opportunity cost.
As many of your are aware, all of this action was prompted by a spill of 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 millions of gallons of coal ash waste water into the Dan River in Eden NC in February of this year.
This could all get much more complicated in the coming months, because the EPA will issue new national coal ash standards in December 2014.