Kate Fulbright, of Charlotte, N.C., shouts about Duke Energy's coal plants during a protest near Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant on Sunday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Chuck Burton

Kate Fulbright, of Charlotte, N.C., shouts about Duke Energy's coal plants during a protest near Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Duke Energy estimates that up to 82,000 tons of ash has been released from a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe at the Dan River Power Plant on Sunday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Environmental groups want N.C. coal ash moved

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — “Coal ash cupcakes” were delivered to the offices of North Carolina legislators Wednesday as a coalition of environmental groups and people who live near Duke Energy power plants pressed lawmakers to require the company to move all of its leaky dumps away from rivers, lakes and homes.

The dark chocolate cupcakes did not include any actual coal ash, which contains such toxic chemicals as arsenic, mercury and lead. They were delivered as advocates tried to meet with their representatives.

“We want them to enjoy the sweets, but no sweetheart deals for Duke Energy,” said Nick Wood, an organizer with NC WARN, a group that advocates for climate protection through the use clean energy.

A massive coal ash spill from a Duke plant in February coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge. Duke has proposed removing the ash from unlined pits at four of its plants, but wants to consider other options at its 10 remaining facilities across the state. Among them, Duke has said it could seek to simply leave the ash where it is, covered with a layer of plastic sheeting and soil.

A measure proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory would allow the company to consider options other than removing the ash from the unlined pits. Before becoming governor, McCrory, a Republican, retired from Duke after working at the company more than 28 years.

Protesters also delivered a batch of coal ash cupcakes to McCrory’s office last week, after they say he refused to meet with them.

The governor’s bill would also shorten the time period during which a dump owner would be required to notify the public of a sizable spill, from 48 hours to 24 hours. The legislation would also allow the state to keep secret portions of the emergency action plans Duke is required to submit to regulators laying out the potential impact of a dam failure at one of its dumps. Duke has previously said the public release of such information would endanger the security of its facilities.

A hearing on the GOP-backed bill is set for Thursday morning before a committee of the state Senate.

A Duke executive previously told legislators it would take decades and could cost as much as $10 billion if it was required to move all its ash to lined landfills, with the utility’s ratepayers footing most of the bill.

A competing bill introduced by Democrats would prohibit Duke from disposing of coal ash in unlined waste pits after August and would set firm deadlines for the company to close all of its waste dumps scattered across the state. The bill would also forbid Duke from passing the costs of cleaning up its coal ash dumps on to its electricity customers.

No committee hearing has been set for the Democratic proposal. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature.