In DC, Barry Obama is preparing to go to war against the Islamic State. In Raleigh, Pat McCrory is barricaded inside his Blount Street residence preparing for battle against his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly. The subject of this Oak City discord? Coal Ash:
Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday announced he will let the coal ash bill become law without his signature, saying it contains important protections that need to go into effect immediately but also illegally undermines the authority of the executive branch.
The governor’s decision sets up a potential constitutional showdown with a state legislature controlled by his own party. He said he and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest will seek an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court to clarify his separation of powers concern.
If the high court doesn’t provide that guidance, McCrory said the administration will file a lawsuit to challenge the General Assembly’s “encroachment upon the executive branch.”
The constitutional issue is that the bill gives the legislature six of the nine appointments to a coal ash commission created by the legislation to oversee the regulation and cleanup of coal ash ponds. McCrory thinks the administration should have control over who serves on the commission.
McCrory’s announcement – in a three-page news release and a 7 -minute video – contradicts a televised interview last month in which he said he anticipated signing the bill despite his constitutional concerns.[…]
Hmmm. As president of the Senate, Dan Forest is walking a real tightrope on this one. Some questions I have: Why a commission, when you could simply order the folks at DENR to DO THEIR DAMN JOBS? Where is Roy Cooper — the chief law enforcement officer for the state? I do believe that lax enforcement of environmental regulations is on the table here. (Can someone pull him off the campaign trail to talk about this?) MORE:
With this legislation, North Carolina appears to have set up the first comprehensive regulatory scheme in the nation to oversee the closure of ponds and safe storage of coal ash. The issue wasn’t a topic of political discussion anywhere until a massive spill in Tennessee in 2008.
Several environmental groups last year pressed state regulators to do more to clean up the 33 ponds at 14 power plants in North Carolina. Then in February of this year, a huge spill from a Duke Energy plant poured coal ash into the Dan River.
The spill came amid accusations that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources wasn’t doing enough. That sparked the attention of federal criminal investigators, who have been looking into the issue for months.[…]
The bill, which will go into effect on Sept. 19, will prioritize the cleanup of the ponds. Environmental organizations have criticized it for not having strong enough enforcement provisions. It will also place the coal ash commission under the Department of Public Safety rather than the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as a result of the allegations of lax enforcement.
McCrory tried to convince the legislature of his separation-of-powers argument earlier this year.
But the General Assembly proceeded based on assurance from its nonpartisan staff that the legislature appointing a majority of members to a board or commission was not only constitutional but had long been the practice.
Senate leader Phil Berger released a statement Tuesday night reacting to the governor’s mixed message.
“While it’s disappointing the governor refuses to endorse the strictest regulations on coal ash in the entire nation, it’s good news that this bipartisan bill will still become law,” Berger said. “The governor’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.”[…]
Ouch. This is not the first time Berger and McCrory have tangled. The governor had a press conference with House speaker Thom Tillis where they tried an end-run around the Senate on teacher pay during debate on the state budget. Currently, there are TV ads being run that praise Tillis and McCrory for improving education and getting teacher pay raises passed. No mention of the senate president pro tem anywhere. He and his chamber had a little bit to do with that.
My Jones Street sources tell me Tillis is about the only real friend McCrory has in the legislative building. Tillis is gone, and Berger will be the 800-lbs. gorilla stomping around Jones Street for the next two years. The governor appears to be aiming for a very frustrating, very lonely last two years of his first term.