Friday, July 17, 2009

Hackney puts brakes on Yadkin River Trust bill

Here's an interesting development on a Senate-passed bill that has pretty broad bipartisan support in the General Assembly to create a Yadkin River Trust that might one day own and operate the hydroelectric dams for which Alcoa Power Generating Inc. is seeking another 50-year license to operate: House Speaker Joe Hackney, a lawmaker with a strong environmental ethic whom many assumed would back the bill, has applied the brakes.

Rep. Cullie Tarleton, D-Watauga (and a former Charlotte broadcaster who now lives in Blowing Rock) is chairman of the House Water Resources and Infrastructure Committee. His committee has held two hearings allowing proponents and opponents of the Yadkin River Trust bill to have their say. He had planned another committee session next week with a vote on the bill. But Hackney called him and asked him to cancel the meeting, he said. The speaker did not give him a reason why, he said. (Just for the record, when a speaker requests a committee session be cancelled, it's something considerably more than a request, and legislators fully understand what it means. It's more like an order, but more politely put.)

I talked to Hackney last night about why he wanted the session cancelled, and it's still not entirely clear to me. I understood him to say that the bill has passed the Senate and thus still would be eligible next year when the legislature reconvenes. He thought it might be best to wait and see whether Alcoa got relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He didn't perceive a need to rush. And a delay would give everyone the opportunity to work out a compromise. BUT, when I repeated my understanding of those words to make sure I followed what he was saying (he was on a cell on his way home, I was on a cell in my truck, and I could not hear perfectly and couldn't take notes) he seemed to say, well, not necessarily.

It was also unclear that Hackney was up to date on everything that had transpired in the water resources committee. When I told him that Deputy Attorney General Faison Hicks had testified in the committee this week that it would help the policy of Gov. Bev Perdue to stop the relicensing of the dams if the legislature were to approve the Yadkin River Trust first, Hackney said he had not known that the attorney general had taken that position. But it was clear that there will be no committee session next week, when Tarleton had told committee members that they would vote on the bill. But Hackney also noted that while there was a lot going on right now, lawmakers would still have time to consider important legislation.

He also told me that he and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus and the prime sponsor of the Senate bill, had talked and that he and Hartsell wanted the same thing. I don’t think that’s correct. Hartsell wants the state to be able to recover the federal license that Alcoa has had for 50 years, and for the state to manage the water quality and quantity. I don’t think Hackney is to that point, yet anyway.

As anyone who has paid attention to the legislature knows, Speaker Hackney defies pigeonholing. While he is inclined to look favorably on environmental protection, he also has to contend with a lot of other issues, including legal and business ramifications of issues as well as the views of his membership, which can run the gamut from other there to over here. Because water quality and water supplies are two issues wrapped up in the Alcoa issue, many might assume that Hackney would go along with the Yadkin River Trust bill. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But it sounds to me like he has not decided.


Anonymous said...

Jack, the environmental angle that you are shilling is a ploy to foment fear and anger towards ALCOA. No one has established that the state of North Carolina will be any more environmentally competent than ALCOA. In fact, the fact that the pages of the Observer would be empty without stories of corruption and incompetence in North Craolina government eg Mary Easley, vanishing e-mails at NC State, probation officers turning serial killers loose, Jim Black shaking down any one and every one indicates that the power authority will become yet another source of corruption and graft and incomptence that will mishandle any environmental clean-up.
The real issye here is state supported theft of private property, the dams and 38,000 acres of land.
Since criminals are mostly stupid, the supporters of this fiasco do not understand that this project is economically unsuastainabe and will be drain on all North Carolina taxpayers for years to come.

Anonymous said...

There is a reason that the liscense to operate the dams is federally issued, the feds own all navigable waterways in the US. Alcoa has run these dams for 100 years , bought the land and built them on their own dime. They are income producing items to Alcoa's power systems division. Why would you think they will just hand them over to N.C.? The value of the operation has been placed at $500,000,000 and the state wants to give them $25,000,000. If this bill passes the state cannot afford the lawyers lifetimes it will cost to get it through the Federal courts and they probably will not win.

Anonymous said...

Re Anonymous on June 21: You contradicted yourself in your first two sentences. If you allow that the federal government “owns” all navigable waterways (a more correct term is “regulates”), then Alcoa must follow the dictates of the federal government for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project because it involves a navigable waterway. Under the terms of its 1958 license, and following established federal law, Alcoa agreed to let the government take back the land and the dams it built once its license expired. Alcoa’s claim of this being “private property” is false and moot.

The fact that these dams bring enormous profits for Alcoa at the expense of North Carolina taxpayers, with scant reinvestment by the company into the dams or the state at large, is exploitation by a monopoly that we should not tolerate. Its $500 million value you cite is another bogus, grotesquely exaggerated claim from Alcoa designed to deter state legislators from doing the right thing of letting us recapture our water rights.

As for lawsuits, Alcoa is already suing the state to change the conditions of its water quality permit and to prevent installing a fish consumption advisory at Badin Lake due to PCBs found there. These actions tell you how little Alcoa cares about North Carolinians and how much they use the Project solely to benefit their bottom line. Let’s fight the good fight to take control of the Project so that it is economically and environmentally advantageous for us in the long term.

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