by Mike Fox
Pittsboro, NC – When discussing the issue of coal ash in Chatham County, it’s important to understand the reality of our situation. Keep in mind these facts:
1. Our governor is a former Duke Energy executive
2. The DEQ that our governor controls has covered for Duke Energy at every turn
3. NC is not a Home Rule state. This means that the state can override local government at will, on anything. Recent local examples of that include: the state forcing Durham County to provide water and sewer to the big 751 South development they didn’t want (which is now underway), the state redrawing Wake County’s commissioner and board of education district maps to ensure the election of more Republicans after the GOP lost its seats there, the state invalidating all local zoning and permitting laws or rules for fracking, and yes, the state granting permits for coal ash disposal in Chatham County against the county’s wishes.
4 .The state recently settled all state coal ash claims against Duke Energy for $7 million. That’s $7 million for the entire state for decades of coal ash pollution. By comparison, Chatham County got $19 million, or almost three times as much as the entire state.
The commissioners were smart to take the $19 million settlement when they did. If they had rejected it Chatham County would have received nothing. Some people seem to think that the county could have received more money if they had fought harder or held out longer. But since then the state has settled for $7 million. Why would Duke now agree to pay Chatham nearly three times as much as the state was willing to take? It wouldn’t.
We got the best deal we could and we got it at the right time, when the county’s hand was the strongest. The commissioners who should be questioned are the ones who voted against this deal, who if they had got their way would have stuck Chatham County with coal ash and no money from Duke.
Some people also think that by refusing to take the money, we could somehow stop coal ash from coming to Chatham County. That strategy has the same chance of success as holding our breath until we turn blue, or stomping our feet. The state has the legal power to put the coal ash here, it decided to, and it did.
This is the reality of how power is distributed between the state and its local governments and no amount of demagoguery or wishful thinking can overturn that. I hate it, Judy Hogan hates it, Mike Cross hates it, the whole Chatham County commission hates it. But it’s the unfortunate reality of our state, and county commissioners have to deal with reality.
So I thank the commissioners who understood reality and did the responsible thing and protected Chatham’s interests instead of just raging against the reality of state vs local power. Thank you Mike Cross, Jim Crawford, and Walter Petty for making the best out of a bad situation and for making a deal that looks smarter and smarter in light of recent events. That’s responsible governing.