Editorial: Opportunity on who pays is blocked

Jun. 25, 2014 @ 11:20 PM

Fresh off a new education spending plan, we hope the N.C. House of Representatives also has a different view from its Senate counterpart for Duke Energy’s coal ash albatross.

One of the state’s most powerful Republican lawmakers went to bat on Tuesday for stockholders versus those paying power bills. Tom Apodaca, the Senate rules chairman, hit a home run when he stepped in to block Democrats’ request to vote on an amendment preventing rate hikes to customers associated with the cleanup of coal ash ponds.

We don’t agree, and neither should the House.

Apodaca reasoned the state Utilities Commission could make an informed decision on who pays. That’s a seven-member body appointed by the governor’s office. Three have been tapped by Gov. Pat McCrory, a retiree from Duke Energy.

The play was classic politics and executed well by the six-term veteran from Hendersonville. Apodaca represents an area that includes a Duke Energy impoundment on Lake Julian, has earned a legislator of the year award from an energy association and drawn praise from environmentalists like the Southern Environmental Law Center for proposing legislation closing coal ash ponds.

It’s worth noting political action committees representing Duke and Progress Energy are campaign contributors for Apodaca. One report cites more than two dozen donations for a total of more than $65,000 since his first campaign in 2002.

Duke Energy has had nine decades to decide what happens to coal ash. We don’t begrudge its business decision that has filled stockholders’ pockets for years. The public and our government didn’t pay enough attention.

But then came the Feb. 2 spill near Eden. Now everyone is awake, a new law is in the works, and Duke Energy has a hefty expense. It has said it won’t pass to customers the cleanup costs of the Dan River spill.

But the door is open for rate hikes associated with closing its 33 coal ash ponds.

Duke Energy is worth about $50 billion and earned $2.7 billion in profit last year.

We understand if customers see greed in a request for rate hikes to cover the estimated $10 billion in cleanup. For Duke Energy, it’s simple: Don’t do it.