McLaurin: Clean drinking water should not be taken for granted

SB 729 is a good first step, but doesn’t go far enough, fast enough

The coal ash problem in North Carolina was here long before the Dan River spill in February. This is a decades old problem — one that should not take decades to correct.

Senate Bill 729, the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 passed, making North Carolina the first state to adopt a comprehensive plan to clean up its coal ash dumps. I voted for the bill. It is a good first step. However, it goes neither far enough, nor fast enough. The Yadkin-Pee River is the lifeline for this region, providing drinking water for my family and yours — families in every county along its basin. Coal ash ponds at the Buck Steam Station in Rowan County are a threat to that water supply.

Sen. Gene McLaurin stands along the Yadkin-Pee Dee River.

Sen. Gene McLaurin stands along the Yadkin-Pee Dee River.

The new legislation sets up a process by which coal ash ponds will be cleaned up in our state. It designates four coal ash sites, Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton as “priority.” These are to be excavated, cleaned up, and closed over the next five years.

A commission will be appointed that will prioritize clean-up at the other 10 sites that have been categorized as lower risk. A 15-year timetable was set for those sites to be cleaned up and the commission could allow Duke to cap the ponds, instead of excavating and removing the ash. The question is whether capping would prevent ground water contamination that neighbors of the Buck plant say is already taking place.

I have visited the homes of families who live close to Buck plant coal ash ponds in the Dukeville community in Rowan County. They told me about serious health issues in the community that they believe could be caused by contamination from the coal ash ponds. They showed me supplies of bottled water they buy because they will not drink their well water or cook with it. Some even buy water to bathe in.

I do not believe the Buck Steam Station is “low risk” and as your state senator, I attempted to amend the original bill to add the site to the priority list. Although the amendment did not pass, we were successful in raising awareness surrounding the issue and the concerns in our community about their health and safety.

This is not a political issue and should not fall victim to partisan games. This is a human issue and time is of the essence as environmental officials report that all of the coal ash dumps are leaking contaminants into groundwater. Ask yourself, why should the people of Dukeville have to wait 15 years to regain access at their homes to clean water? Why should the citizens of all the counties along the Yadkin-Pee Dee have to wait and wonder if their drinking water will become unsafe because of a spill at the Buck Steam Plant?

It is our responsibility to ensure that our drinking water is safe now. Truthfully, government officials have not done a very good job of it over the years or Duke would not have been allowed to operate these sites at such a dangerous level. This issue cannot be allowed to languish over the next decade and a half. Nor can we stand by and see band-aid fixes applied that will force our children and grandchildren to continue to deal with coal ash ponds long after we’re gone.

We must find ways to expedite a final protective solution, establish meaningful timelines, and ensure that clean-up costs are not passed on to consumers. It is a fact — we cannot live without clean drinking water. Our health and our economic future depend on having reliable, clean drinking water. Our farms and factories, our schools and homes, small businesses and corporations, rich and poor — all rely on water.

While we have only just begun this clean-up process, I challenge every elected local, state and federal official to join me in making a commitment to protect our most precious natural resource.

Sen. Gene McLaurin, Democrat, represents District 25 which includes Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly counties.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Opinion

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