WBTV Speak Out Editorial: Who Pays to Clean Up Coal Ash Sites

WBTV Speak Out Editorial: Who Pays to Clean Up Coal Ash Sites

"Speak Out" is an expression of opinion from the Editorial Board of WBTV, and is presented by General Manager, Nick Simonette.

Following the massive Dan River spill in February, pressure has been mounting on Duke Energy to clean up ash stored at its 14 of it's coal-fired plants across the state.

The North Carolina legislature is now considering three plans that would also address who would pay for it – a job Duke says could cost up to $10 billion and take 30 years.

One plan would force the Fortune 500 company to close and move all 33 ponds into safe, lined and dry storage away from river.

Who ultimately pays for all of this would seem to be a flash point.

Duke's intention has always been to pass along the cost to its 3.2 million Tar Heel customers.

One justification contends Duke customers benefited from cheap electricity for decades, and so, they should bear the burden of cleaning up the ash.

It's also been argued that the utility should not be held to an environmental standard that did not exist when the pits were constructed 50 years ago.

That may be fair, but critics say Duke had been warned for years, should have known the risks involved, and is at fault for resisting pressure to act sooner.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

But it seems fair to say that if Duke's customers benefited from cheap electricity, so did its shareholders, who realized gains from their investments for the very same reason.