Commentary, Environment

The mind reels: Civitas, foe of EPA and government regulation, demands EPA enforce Clean Water Act re: GenX

Ultra-conservative think tank the Civitas Institute, which has never met an environmental regulation it didn’t want to obliterate, is now invoking the Clean Water Act to keep GenX and other chemicals out of the Cape Fear River.

In a letter to the EPA, Chemours and the NC Department of Environmental Quality, Civitas Executive Director Francis De Luca wrote that, “Unless you take the necessary and enforceable steps to remedy these violations .. we intend to file suit following the expiration of the 60-day notice period” provided under the Clean Water Act.

But the letter appears to be a mere pretense for an accompanying Civitas blog post. It digs at Gov. Roy Cooper, the attorney general’s office and NC DEQ for not detailing what violations have occurred or what actions the agencies have undertaken “to legally prohibit these violations.” Cooper has instructed the SBI to investigate whether a criminal probe is warranted. Attorney General Josh Stein has made a civil demand of a trove of records that Chemours must supply by Aug. 21. NC DEQ is sampling the Cape Fear River to gauge how levels of the chemical are changing now that Chemours has stopped discharging its effluent into the waterway.

North Carolina and other states with contaminants in drinking water — that means all 50 — got in this mess because the EPA, under political pressure from industry and free marketeers, has dallied on regulating GenX and other so-called “emerging contaminants.” These contaminants — and there are dozens — lack federal health standards for maximum levels in the environment, including drinking water.

That leaves the states to freestyle it with scant science and little federal backing. According to Chemours’s discharge permit filed with NC DEQ, the company must monitor for PFOAs — the chemical family of GenX. However, a federal consent order allowed GenX  ato be discharged into surface water as long as it’s a byproduct of a manufacturing process — not the manufacturing of GenX itself. This loophole was created in an EPA agreement settled with DuPont, Chemours’s parent company in a lawsuit based in West Virginia. Chemours appears to have taken advantage of that loophole because its Fayetteville plant does not manufacture GenX — only products that create GenX when they’re made.

NC DEQ can impose stricter requirements than the feds; the agency has said it will prohibit Chemours from discharging the chemical when it renews the company’s permit. However, absent an environmental crisis, whenever there’s been a whiff of NC DEQ wanting to strengthen regulations, the punishment from the General Assembly has been swift and ruthless. Exhibit A: The last six years of environmental rollbacks and budget cuts to the department. And we’ve yet to hear from lawmakers about whether they will grant DEQ the $3 million in emergency funding it requested to grapple with GenX and other emerging contaminants.

Lest one think Civitas has had a change of heart, last year, the group’s policy analyst Brian Balfour wrote a series of posts slamming the EPA for its “unprecedented power grab,” aka the Clean Power Plan. The CPP would have required further reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants in hopes of staving off the effect of climate change. Civitas has also heralded criticized solar energy tax credits, while heralding the promise of fracking.

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