In its original incarnation, House Bill 374 was relatively innocuous. It regulated ZipLines and established rules for the storage and public disclosure of hazardous chemicals. But that was in April.
Now it’s June, time for lawmakers to dust off dormant or placeholder bills and quietly embellish them with often pernicious language. Exhibit A: The new HB 374.
Heard yesterday in the Senate Commerce Committee, HB 374 now limits who can challenge an environmental permit, eliminates public notice on extensions to landfill agreements, and, before a last-minute amendment, essentially killed coal ash recycling requirements.
Under current law, all people or groups who could be harmed by a permitted activity can challenge a DEQ permit. HB 374 would limit the complainants to only those who had previously submitted public comment.This eliminates the appeal rights for people who don't or can't comment Click To Tweet
“This eliminates the appeal rights for people who don’t or can’t comment,” Jamie Cole, policy advocate for the North Carolina Conservation Network, told the committee. “There can be a lack of notice and opportunity.”
Unless someone knows where to find public notices on the DEQ website (under “News” at the homepage) or examines the ultra-fine print in a newspaper’s classified section (those legal notices in publications may soon disappear via another bill), they might not be aware a comment period or hearing is happening.
“Limiting public access to the courts guarantees that people won’t get justice,” Brooks Rainey Pearson of the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the committee.
Democratic Sen. Angela Bryant bemoaned the new provision. “This is a significant change,” she told her colleagues. “We’re ramming this through an omnibus bill that involves both a judicial and an environmental process.”
Under the bill, the public would also be shut out of commenting on renewal agreements between landfill operators and local governments. Right now, a public notice and hearing must be held if those parties agree to extend the length of their contract to “life of site” — essentially until DEQ approves closure of the landfill.
If HB 374 becomes law, there would be no required public notice and hearing. Nor would changes to these “life of site” agreements require new or modified permits.
These changes set up the potential for wayward landfill operators to shirk their permit requirements. And, taken in concert with the leachate aerosolization bill — now headed to the governor’s desk — these modifications cater to the solid waste industry. This comes at the expense of low-income and minority communities, which are more likely to have landfills sited in their neighborhoods.
The Senate Finance Committee did roll back some of the most damaging provisions to the coal ash recycling section. Environmental advocates hope that by repurposing the material, Duke will move the millions of tons of ash from landfills and impoundments and into a new life as a filler in concrete.
Industry demand for the material, according to an NC State University study, is upward of 959,000 tons a year. (Duke Energy’s study claimed a much more modest demand.)
Before the committee passed an amendment, Duke Energy would have been required to identify just one coal ash recycling facility for disposal. Now that mandate would be two facilities, with a feasibility study required for a third.
HB 374 now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.