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Apodaca 'dead serious' about killing coal ash ponds

State Sen. Tom Apodca has turned into one of the strongest voices in his party calling for immediate action to eliminate the threat of coal ash ponds to North Carolina rivers.


"We just can't talk about containment any more," Apodaca said in an interview. "I wrote a letter last Friday before all this other stuff happened. I asked for the Lake Julian plant to be put on the Joint Legislative Environmental Review Commission (agenda) along with Dan River. We had an internal breach several years ago, not external, that leaked from one pond to the other. It's just an accident waiting to happen."
Apodaca's reaction to a large Dan River spill on Feb. 2 and the potential for a similar breach from Duke Energy's Lake Julian plant was unusually strong and unequivocal. Instead of calling for study or stronger containment measures, the six-term incumbent from Hendersonville is calling for the powerful North Carolina-based utility to shut down the ash ponds — and aides or drafting legislation to require it.
"Duke Power, I understand where they're coming from but we've got to get rid of it some how some way," he said.
Apodaca said he does not know the technology or the cost but has already heard of a couple of options.
"There is a landfill site in Alabama that takes coal ash in a facility that's built specifically for it," he said. "There are other remedies out there. There's a permanent containment process made out of materials that don't rust and don't disintegrate. We just can't have the ash ponds and we can't keep talking about containment. We've just got to get rid of it. We put a man on the moon how many years ago. It looks like we could find a way to get rid of coal ash."
Pressure on the utility intensified this week when a federal grand jury launched an investigation into the spill and what led to it, the Charlotte Observer reported. Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources confirmed Thursday that prosecutors subpoenaed records to be presented to a federal grand jury meeting in Raleigh next month.
"The DENR subpoena demanded documents, including correspondence with Duke, since January 2010," the Observer reported. "It seeks records linked to the broken stormwater pipe that funneled up to 39,000 tons of ash – Duke's updated estimate – and records on other discharges and seepage from the site."
Duke stores 106 million tons of ash at its North Carolina plants, the Observer said, including 84 million tons in ponds.
The political force behind new and tougher regulation of coal ash ponds is formidable.
The Dan River spill occurred in the hometown of Senate leader Phil Berger. His second-in-command, Apodaca, said he is worried about the potential for a catastrophic spill from the Lake Julian plant into the French Broad River. Apodaca's concern is based not just on environmental reasons but economic ones, too.
The Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. built its East Coast brewery on the French Broad in Mills River and New Belgium is opening a brewery on the river in Asheville downstream from the Lake Julian power plant.
"A lot of things don't get done until we mandate it," he said. "And we have spoken with Duke Energy. They want to do what's right. They're worried about the cost. W just can't keep letting those ponds sit there waiting for an accident while we worry about the cost."
"To be honest I've had various House members email me wanting to cosponsor the bill," he said. "This is moving forward and we are dead serious about it."
Asked whether he was worried that the spill had the potential to damage the Republican leadership politically, Apodaca said, "Not at all because we didn't set the regulations on ash ponds, the Democrats did. There's plenty, I don't know if blame's the right word, but there is plenty of it. It's just a problem and we've got to get rid of it."