RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday he won't sign a new law regulating Duke Energy's toxic coal ash pits because he has problems with it, but he will allow the legislation to become law without his signature.
McCrory's key objection involves a provision that lets legislative leaders appoint a majority of the members on a new, nine-member oversight commission. McCrory said he should lead environmental enforcement as the state's chief executive.
"One of the major shortcomings is the formation of another unchecked, non-judicial commission that reports to no one, has no accountability, and adds another level of unneeded bureaucracy," McCrory said in a statement. "The legislature's duty is to draft and pass laws, not execute them. That is the executive branch's duty."
Lawmakers approved the legislation last month. McCrory will allow it to become law next week and he will ask the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion "to avoid a prolonged legal challenge over a 'strong difference of opinion.'" If that doesn't work, McCrory said, he will file a lawsuit. McCrory's office also released a video in which the governor explained his decision.
The legislation would establish timelines and requirements for removal or capping of coal ash at 33 open-air dumps operated by Duke Energy. The legislation would also require Duke Energy to dig up or cap all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
McCrory retired from Duke in 2008 after working there 29 years and the electricity company's executives have remained generous in supporting his political campaigns. The governor has said his administration has never given his former employer special treatment.
Ethics filings show McCrory owned an undisclosed amount of Duke stock, selling his stake after a massive Feb. 2spill from one of the company's ash dumps in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who lives not far from the spill, responded that for more than a century, the state constitution has given General Assembly the power to appoint members of independent commissions overseeing everything from public universities to power prices.
McCrory's "primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer. Keeping the commission separate from the agency that regulates coal ash is not only constitutional, it is a wise policy choice," Berger said in a statement.
A coalition of North Carolina environmental groups last week sued the country's largest electric company over pollution leaking from its coal ash pits into rivers and groundwater used as drinking water sources. Coal ash contains numerous chemicals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, including arsenic, lead, chromium and thallium.
McCrory also told reporters earlier Tuesday he doesn't anticipate calling the General Assembly into a special legislative session to revamp the state's Medicaid system. The Republican-led House and Senate approved competing overhaul plans but adjourned for the year without a final agreement. North Carolina currently spends about $13 billion a year on the federal-state insurance program, which serves 1.8 million residents.