Commentary

GenX disaster: More compelling evidence that incessant GOP budget cuts endanger our well-being

It was already patently obvious, but a story in this morning’s Wilmington Star News about the ongoing GenX chemical disaster in southeastern North Carolina makes clear once more the direct connection that exists between incessant Republican efforts to decimate essential public services and structures and a demise in public well-being. This is from the article (“As GenX lingers, NC environmental regulators hobbled”):

“The revelation that the unregulated chemical compound GenX was found in treated drinking water in New Hanover County has spurred the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) into action, prompting testing and an investigation of Chemours, a spinoff of chemical giant DuPont that is responsible for the discharge.

Environmental groups and some lawmakers, though, said years of GOP-mandated cuts have resulted in an agency choked by repeated reductions in staff that can’t handle the workload….

In 2010, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had a staff of 5,221. By 2012, its staff had shrunk to 4,053, according to the DEQ….

The agency, which was reorganized and renamed the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in 2015, now numbers 1,582 employees. Most of those employees — including those at state parks, aquariums and the N.C. Zoo — were transferred into new departments, predominantly the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources.

Since 2015, though, the arms of DEQ tasked with overseeing water resources and quality have also shrunk, from 493 before the reorganization to 426 today.”

Naturally, Republican politicians interviewed for the article all trotted out timeworn claims that they’ve been making things more “efficient” and that “more spending doesn’t necessarily mean better services,” but this is baloney and an attempt to deceive. As the article goes on to report:

“While budgets and staff have diminished, the agency’s backlog — permits that have been administratively continued more than 180 days beyond their expiration date or new applications pending for more than a year — of major wastewater permits has grown. In 2010, the backlog was 14 percent of applications, according to DEQ spokeswoman Bridget Munger.

‘As of May 2017, 42 percent of the expired major wastewater permits are awaiting review and processing,’ she said.

One of those awaiting a new permit is Chemours Co., which has discharged the unregulated chemical compound GenX into the Cape Fear River. The chemical can’t be filtered by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), which provides drinking water to most of New Hanover County.”

It is, in short, not that complicated. When you employ fewer people and place fewer resources at their disposal, they get less work done. When you do the opposite with even a modicum of intelligence, they get more done. But, of course,  GOP ideologues know this. That’s why Senator Phil Berger, for instance, has dramatically increased the size of the legislative staff that reports to him in recent years,

The bottom line: The article quotes a former agency official as observing “The DEQ does not currently have the staff to provide either good customer service to the business community or good stewardship of the environment.”

And anyone paying any attention at all to North Carolina politics understands that this was an intentional decision by conservative lawmakers who acted at the behest of the polluters who pay their campaign bills. All North Carolinians will suffer as a result of this treachery.

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