NC Governor Backs More Oversight of Coal Ash Ponds

Released June 29, EPA's list of 44 ponds nationwide that are assigned a high hazard potential rating, meaning a failure probably would cause fatalities, included 12 North Carolina sites -- the most of any state.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to pass a bill that would increase safety inspections of the dams at coal ash ponds located in the state. The bill would give the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources authority to inspect them. Perdue endorsed a bill sponsored by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Greensboro, that would regulate ponds more tightly and would require a state inspection every two years. Harrison also sponsored House Bill 9, which bans texting while driving in North Carolina and was signed into law June 19 by Perdue.

"Because of where some of the ponds are located, greater safety oversight and more frequent inspections will help reduce potential risks," Perdue said in her announcement.

The ponds are located beside coal-burning power plants and contain ash resulting from coal combustion. When EPA on June 29 released a list of 44 ponds nationwide that were assigned a high hazard potential rating according to National Dam Safety Program criteria, meaning a failure probably would cause fatalities, the list included 12 North Carolina sites -- the most of any state. EPA said the ponds can contain fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag, and flue gas desulfurization residue. This material contains "a broad range of metals, for example, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, but the concentrations of these are generally low. However, if not properly managed, (for example, in lined units), [the ponds] may cause a risk to human health and the environment and, in fact, EPA has documented cases of environmental damage," the agency said.

EPA compiled the list, using state dam safety officials' ratings, following the Dec. 22, 2008, failure of a dam that held back a 40-acre coal waste pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority plant in Harriman County, Tenn. The flood of wet ash contaminated 300 acres of land but did not cause serious injuries or deaths.

The high hazard potential rating is given to dams near densely populated areas or downstream water supplies and does not reflect the structural condition of the dam. Gov. Perdue noted power companies in North Carolina are currently required only to file reports by private engineers on the structural conditions of their dams every five years. The impoundment dams currently are exempt from the North Carolina Dam Safety Act, but the bill would change that.

Other states with dams on EPA's list of high hazard potential ratings were Arizona (nine dams), West Virginia (four), Ohio (six), Kentucky (seven), Illinois (two), and Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Montana, all four of which had one dam each on the list.

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