[Updated: The Senate adopted the conference committee report as its first act this morning]. As state lawmakers prepare to gather this morning for what could be the final day of the 2013-14 General Assembly, it should come as no surprise that one of the final acts is likely to be the enactment of a polluter “wish list” that was crafted mostly out of public view.
According to environmental protection advocates who finally got a chance to begin reviewing the last minute conference committee report that emerged to Senate Bill 734 last night, the legislation contains at least a dozen gifts to industry. Many of the changes are technical, wonky and even minor on their own, but make no mistake, the cumulative effect will be to weaken environmental protection, hasten the development of more open land and wetlands and further imperil our increasingly fragile environment.
Here are just a few of the changes identified by an expert with one of the state advocacy groups that’ve been trying to monitor the legislation:
Section 25: Exempts development activity on properties contiguous to properties grandfathered under the coastal stormwater rules. Essentially crates a windfall for certain properties by inflicting worse water quality on everyone.
Section 54: Increases the amount of isolated wetlands that can be impacted without requiring a permit to 1 acre for areas east of I-95 and 1/3 acre for areas west of I-95 (the threshold is currently 1/3 of an acre east of I-95 and .1 acre west of I-95). Reduces the mitigation required for impacts to isolated wetlands from a 2:1 to a 1:1 ratio and allows for onsite mitigation. This provision weakens protection for many isolated wetlands, which provide vital flood control, water purification, groundwater recharge, and habitat functions.
Section 57: Hardison amendment expansion. All rules stronger than federal minimum standards are automatically subject to legislative review.
There are several others — all of which were slipped into legislation without meaningful opportunity for input from independent environmental protection advocates and experts.
The bottom line: If this new “reform” bill is enacted today and signed into law, North Carolina will soon be more polluted and less sustainable state and another apt exclamation point will have been added to the story of the 2013-14 General Assembly.