Cooper: New DEQ coal ash regulations not 'final solution'

Published: Jul. 19, 2017 at 12:28 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2017 at 5:39 PM EDT
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(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says the new rules regulating coal ash contaminants in the water supply handed down less than two weeks ago are not his administration's final decision in the matter.

Cooper made the remarks in an interview with WBTV on Tuesday, less than a week after leaders at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced a scientific review panel would study a toxic chemical commonly associated with coal ash called hexavalent chromium to determine how much of the substance is safe to drink on a regular basis.

The panel was announced last Wednesday in a hastily-organized conference call with reporters. The announcement came one day after a WBTV investigation uncovered a memo from health scientists at NCDHHS that took issue with a decision by DEQ in early July to not set a standard specifically limiting the amount of hexavalent chromium that can be in water.

Previous story: DEQ adopts new drinking water standard over DHHS scientists' objections

Instead, the agency set a standard for total chromium—there are two kinds, with one significantly less toxic than the other—that can be in water. The new standard will be used by Duke Energy to develop filtration systems for homeowners near Duke Energy coal ash ponds whose well water is too toxic to drink.

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen refused WBTV's request for an on-camera interview, despite having first agreed to schedule one.

But, in his interview Tuesday, Cooper said the final decision on regulations for hexavalent chromium should be made by career state scientists, not politicians.

Previous story: Regulators announce new 'science panel' review of drinking water standard after WBTV investigation

"I think the leaders of both departments realize that health officials and scientists all need to get together to come up with a final solution to this," Cooper said. "I don't think that we're at a final solution – at least they tell me that they're not at a final solution at this point."

Watch WBTV News on Thursday night at 6 to see more of our interview with Cooper and hear from one Belmont resident impacted by Duke's coal ash ponds who said she is disappointed the Cooper administration has not done more to provide her and her neighbors with clean drinking water.

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