Environment, Legislature

Bad housekeeping at the special session: Regulatory reforms that could ruin your holidays

Portrait of State Representative Chuck McGrady

“We got very close to an agreement on that thing” with the Senate. “I’ve heard discussion that we ought to put together that bill. There’s some housekeeping stuff like that that’s out there.”
— State Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville) on the controversial regulatory reform bill that could be resurrected in the special session. (The News & Observer, Dec. 10, 2016)

To call the Regulatory Reform Bill of 2016 a housekeeping item is like saying the USA Patriot Act merely added an extra stanza to the National Anthem. Although hurricane and wildfire disaster relief is the pretense of this week’s special session, it’s reasonable to expect other less-benevolent “housekeeping” bills are being drafted at this very moment.

Riffing on Rep. McGrady’s tidiness theme, we’ve subverted headlines from Good Housekeeping magazine to explain what provisions were in the original bill that could make a comeback this week.

How to talk to your kids about the special session
Last June, Senate Bill 303, a sweeping anti-regulation bill, was referred to a conference committee, where it died days before the session adjourned. Although the end of the session killed any measures that hadn’t passed both chambers, the regulatory reform bill was cryogenically preserved in lawmakers’ minds. Now it appears to have thawed.

SB 303 contained several provisions that would have thwarted the development of wind farms, weakened renewable energy standards and allowed the dumping of televisions and computers – rife with toxic chemicals such as lead and heavy metals — in landfills. The bill also narrowed the definition of wetlands.

An indigo-colored iMac G3, also known as the Jellybean model from the early 2000s.

A landfill is no place for an iMac G3 (Creative Commons)

Not-so-refreshing ideas for old TVs and computers
What’s in your TV is worse than what’s on it. Currently televisions and computers aren’t allowed in municipal landfills. Instead, they must be recycled, and for good reason. TVs and computers, including the monitors, contain toxics such as lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and bromide flame-retardants. Today’s landfills are lined, but those liners can fail, allowing these materials to leach into the groundwater. And from the groundwater they can travel into private drinking water wells, lakes, rivers, springs and streams.

Solar panels

There goes the sun: Lawmakers could cap the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (Photo: Creative Commons)



Two easy ways to ruin the state’s burgeoning renewable energy industry
The 2007 Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard can be credited in part for the explosive growth in the state’s solar industry. The REPS requires public electric utilities, municipal suppliers and electric co-ops to generate or purchase a certain percentage of their power from renewables — wind, solar, biomass, water, landfill gas, geothermal – and energy efficiency. The benchmarks are staggered to allow utilities to ramp up, which they’ve accomplished: From 3 percent in 2012, to 6 percent in 2014, to 10 percent next year. By 2020, the requirement is 12.5 percent for public utilities and 10 percent for rural coops and municipal electric suppliers. The regulatory reform bill would have capped the REPS percentage at its current level of 6 percent.

The bill also asked for a joint environmental and military study on wind farms and turbines near Army, Air Force and Marine bases. However, veterans of Jones Street know that a “study” often portends noxious language that will be inserted into legislation, perhaps even in the middle of the night.

A hiatus on solar wasn’t in the original regulatory bill. However the Energy Policy Council and its Clean Energy subcommittee met earlier this month to recommend that the state study – there’s that word again – the effects of solar and the REPS on utilities.

A swampy wetlands with trees in Four Oaks, North Carolina

Looks wet to us: A wetland in Howell Woods, Four Oaks. (Photo via Creative Commons: Bobistraveling)

Simple decorating tricks to get rid of wetlands
An amendment to the Isolated Wetlands Law appeared in an earlier House version of the regulatory bill, not the Senate, but legislators have long memories. The proposal would strip the NC Department of Environmental Quality of its authority to regulate certain wetlands: Man (or woman)-made ponds and wetlands that aren’t subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

Why do we care? Because wetlands are linchpins of a healthy ecosystem, regardless of who built them. Development can threaten these wetlands, which don’t care about semantics. The language also weakens the mitigation requirements – what developers have to do to compensate for encroaching on the wetlands.

15 environmental reports that could go out of style in 2017

We like reports. Yes, they require state employees’ time and cost money, but reports are one way – and under the outgoing administration, has been nearly the only way – to keep track of the government’s activities. Granted, you have to know what to ask for –it’s not like there’s an easily accessible index – but reports are a form of transparency.

In that spirit, lawmakers want to eliminate reports on the mining account, sustainable energy efficient buildings program, vehicle emissions reductions and the biennial state of the environment. Other reports would be published less frequently: the activities of the Environmental Management Commission (its membership is composed of political appointees), the cost and implementation of environmental permitting, waste management and the parks system plan.

Sure, this provision is mostly of interest to policy geeks and watchdogs, but we all have the right to know.

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