House Bill 162 began its life last February as a wonky aggregation of technical corrections. But by summer, the measure hasdmorphed into yet another attempt by lawmakers to curb the authority of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. (Because cutting 16-plus jobs and more than $2 million from the agency’s budget isn’t effective enough?)
The annotated version of the bill is below (see pages 6-8). In essence, DEQ could not make permanent rules that would be more stringent than the federal government’s, aka, the EPA’s —- even in the case of “serious and unforeseen threats.” While existing legislation already suffocates DEQ’s rule-making powers, this measure would up the ante.
If you need an example of such a threat, look no further than the GenX drinking water crisis. It’s serious. It’s unforeseen. And there are no federal rules governing maximum allowable amounts in drinking water. So ostensibly, DEQ could make a temporary rule setting maximum limits of GenX, but the agency would be prohibited from making those rules permanent. And given the recalcitrance of the EPA to strengthen any regulations, it could be years before the feds issue rules regarding emerging contaminants like GenX.
This legislation clearly favors industry over the workaday folks. In addition, no agency could enact a rule that has a financial impact of $100 million or more. Environmentally speaking, it’s easy to ring up $100 million in expenses because it’s costly to clean up polluted sites, even to bare minimum industrial standards. And the bill doesn’t account for financial benefits of a rule. So if the rule produced $200 million in benefits but $100 million in costs, then that $100 million net benefit would still be a dealbreaker.
The bill was headed for a full House vote when Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, protested. She noted that this bill, which last anyone had heard was being hammered out in a conference committee in June, had appeared on the special session calendar at the 11th hour. At 8:15 last night, House Speaker Tim Moore pulled the bill from the floor and shipped it back to House rules. And there it will lie, until next time.