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N.C. Senate candidate Rick Wood criticized state Sen. Tom Apodaca over a Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River, saying the incumbent "would be in a better position to speak out for legislation to remove coal ash dumps if he would stop accepting campaign contributions from Duke Energy."
Wood's comments came in a news release on Monday night, the week after Apodaca said in interviews that his staff was drafting legislation that would force the utility to close the coal ash ponds across North Carolina and eliminate the threat to the state's waterways.
"Clean water advocates have long complained that state regulators are too cozy with the polluters they regulate, particularly since the inauguration of Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years," Wood said in the news release.
Wood, a Democrat, said Apodaca, a Republican first elected in 2002, has received 25 donations totaling $65,500 from Duke, which became the largest utility in the U.S. when it merged with Progress Energy.
Apodaca said Wood's comments showed he does not know the history of Duke's campaign donations.
Democrats "took $16 million from Duke during during their national convention plus guarantees worth millions," he said in an email response. "Does he want them to return it?"
Instead of showing that money influenced him to protect a donor's interest, his pledge to outlaw the coal ash ponds show the opposite, Apodaca said.
"It shows money doesn't influence me in doing what needs to be done," he said. "He is just a typical liberal candidate . I want to see the economy continue to recover and WNC prosper with a strong and clean environment."
Wood vowed not to take donations from the utility.
"As a stark contrast to Senator Apodaca's position, I will not accept any campaign contributions from Duke Energy if offered," he said.
Apodaca volleyed: "I don't think any job creators would ever donate to him, so he has no worries. I will continue to push for elimination of coal ash ponds regardless of what anyone says."
Apodaca, a powerful member of the Senate leadership, said in an interview with the Hendersonville Lightning last week that the Dan River coal ash pond breach and an earlier breach at Duke's Lake Julian plant that was contained on site have convinced him that the state should outlaw coal ash ponds and find a way to clean them up. Asked last week about the political fallout from the coal ash spill, the senator said that Democrats had enacted the regulations of the ponds.