Like Chucky the doll, regulatory reform legislation will not die. Although a regulatory reform bill succumbed to political disagreements in the final throes of last year’s session, a new(ish) measure, Senate Bill 131, was filed today.
It mixes portions of last year’s lemon with another failed enviro bill from 2016: laying the groundwork to pull the plug on TV and computer recycling, exempting landscaping material from stormwater management requirements (because runoff from mulch and gravel is harmless?) and weakening stream protections.
Of course, the bill doesn’t say “weaken,” but rather “amend.” Regardless, Reg Reform 2.0 would direct the Environmental Management Commission to change its rules so that if development damages or destroys as much as 300 linear feet (equivalent to the length of a football field) of stream bed, well, no problem. The developer wouldn’t have to mitigate that loss by say, improving the same distance in another stream bed.
Near the coast, the threshold is 150 feet. In that part of the state, the law would essentially allow someone to ruin twice as much stream bed without having to compensate for that loss.
Missing thus far: Any mention of wind farms.
House Bill 173, which deals with billboard laws, has been revived with much of the same language as the version from last year (and the year before, and the year before).. The bad news: Billboard companies could apply for a vegetation removal permit that would allow them to cut down trees that obscure the view of their signs. (Because it’s so easy to miss the JR Discount Outlet along I-85? Because attending the Dixie Gun & Knife Show is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity? ) The outdoor advertiser, the bill states, has the “right to be clearly viewed.”
The good news: Unlike last year, digital billboards, those retina-burning broadsides scattered along the interstates, are absent from the bill — so far.
Primary sponsors: Eastern North Carolina House Republicans John Bell (Craven, Greene, Lenoir and Wayne); Phil Shepard (Onslow) and Pat McElraft (Carteret, Jones); and Democrat Michael Wray (Halifax, Northampton).
More good news: Large cities in North Carolina would receive extra environmental TLC under House Bill 175. It directs DEQ to “emphasize the protection of at-risk urban communities from environmental degradation” of air and water quality.
The measure proposes that DEQ prioritize stream restoration and study air pollution in urban empowerment zones. Those are defined as areas with higher-than-average unemployment and low median household incomes, as designated by city councils. Only cities with populations of at least 275,000 would be within the purview of the bill: Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro.
DEQ could also recommend local ordinances or state legislation to address air pollution, particularly from manufacturing and quarry operations.