An Open Letter to the North Carolina House of Representatives: Support Sensible Coal Ash Policy

Dear Representative:

On behalf of National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) thousands of members and supporters across North Carolina, I urge you to vote YES on the proposed Senate Committee Substitute to House Bill 630. This legislation, which cleared the full Senate yesterday, is a prudent and workable alternative to the harsh, one-size-fits-all clean-up scheme that some have demanded – a scheme that would translate into higher energy prices, heavier burdens for taxpayers, and slower progress on other environmentally important projects.

Recent, politically charged ads and other overheated rhetoric from some groups have implied that any action short of digging up all coal ash sites and relocating them amounts to disaster. These contentions aside, there are sound reasons to design a response that is more flexible. Following the “high risk” remediation procedure for every single site means excavating, transporting, and securing the ash elsewhere, and the implications for doing so need to be considered thoughtfully. The Substitute for HB 630 allows this. As we pointed out in a June 8 communication to you:

  • Given cost estimates for a total “dig and rebury” strategy that range into the high billions of dollars, millions of families and small businesses could be in line for major increases in their energy bills as remediation expenses are passed along. Alternatively, those costs could result in fewer employment opportunities in the energy sector if they are “absorbed,” or lower returns for numerous shareholders (including middle-class retirees).

  • If the latter effect were to occur, taxpayer-backed government pension plans (which often keep energy stocks in their portfolios) could likewise see a downturn in their health. This would be a setback for North Carolina, which by many measurements has some of the best-funded pension plans in the country.

  • As thousands of trucks traverse the state transporting coal ash to new sites, road wear would inevitably increase the pressure to boost the state’s fuel tax – which is already eighth-highest in the nation.

  • Investments in natural gas-fired plants – which the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently credited for a 25-year-low in power plant emissions – could stall. This would be a truly ironic outcome (and a high price to pay) for those who support “excavate at all costs.”

Following a veto of SB 71, which would have reconstituted the Coal Ash Commission, your colleagues in the Senate worked diligently to address procedural and other concerns. The result is a bill that should avoid conflict between the executive and legislative branches, maintain oversight of the remediation process, provide drinking-water options to residents, and establish a reasonable hierarchy of clean-up priorities among coal ash sites.

While the Senate-passed version of HB 630 is not perfect, it will help to create a sensible balance among policies that can maintain the state’s economy as well as its environment. As NTU noted in our previous letter to you, sweeping tax and fiscal reforms have propelled North Carolina’s ranking on the Tax Foundation’s comprehensive business climate index from a dismal 44th to a highly respectable 15th in just two years’ time. Rather than turn back the clock through precipitous regulatory acts that threaten taxpayers, public officials should nurture this progress, by embracing legislation such as the HB 630 Substitute. The time to act, for the benefit of all the people of North Carolina, is now.

Pete Sepp