Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:
NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback
RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.
SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.
Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.
The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.
H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.
After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:
“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.
“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”
“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”
And this is from EDF:
North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems
(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.
“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.
“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.
“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”