NC Slashes Water Protection Agency Staff Only Weeks After Coal Ash Spill

North Carolina has moved forward with a decision to cut 13 percent of the agency responsible for protecting water resources even as one of the nation's largest coal ash spills continued to devastate rivers in the state.

Last month, the Duke Energy plant in Eden discovered that gray coal ask sludge was leaking out of a storage pond into the Dan River.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R), a former executive at Duke Energy, has been criticized for his close ties to the company, and for receiving more than $1 million in campaign donations from the company and its employees.

The News & Observer reported last week that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had eliminated 13 percent of the staff positions from the Division of Water Resources only weeks after the coal spill was discovered.

According to its website, the Division of Water Resources is tasked with protecting "North Carolina's surface and ground water resources for the health and welfare of the citizens of North Carolina, and the economic well-being of the state."

In an interview with WSOC, McCrory insisted that he was doing everything possible to safeguard the environment.

"Our DENR under our administration has taken the most aggressive action in North Carolina history," the governor said.

Duke Energy Chief Executive Lynn Good on Friday warned that customers would be forced to bear the costs if the state of North Carolina ordered the company to remove the coal ash pits.

"We currently estimate we will spend between $4.5 billion and $5.5 billion over the next 10 years, with $900 million expected to be spent in the 2014 to 2016 time frame," Duke Chief Financial Officer Steve Young told shareholders on a recent conference call. "Approximately 85 percent of our expected environmental compliance investments will be in the Carolinas and Indiana. Both of these jurisdictions have a strong track record of allowing utilities to recover costs related to environmental compliance investments."

Cost "recovery" is another way of saying that North Carolina will allow Duke to raise energy prices to cover the cost of environmental clean-up instead of taking it out of shareholder profits.

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McCrory, who is also a Duke Energy shareholder, has declined to comment.

(H/t: NC Policy Watch)

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