Commentary, Environment

The Gospel according to Sen. Andy Wells: DEQ is like an ungrateful servant, deserves no money for GenX

Sen. Andy Wells (Photo: General Assembly)

Andy Wells: state senator, real estate broker and now, Sunday school teacher.

Today Sen. Wells posted on his personal blog a story based on the “parable of talents” from the Book of Matthew and, using pretzel logic, ties the story to GenX and the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

(Matthew, by the way, had a day job as a tax collector; if he were alive today he’d likely be concerned about the state’s projected shortfall because of conservatives’ tax cuts on the wealthy.)

Anyway, the plot of the parable is that three servants get some extra money from their wealthy boss. Two of them spend it wisely — maybe investing in mutual funds or more likely, real estate — but the third servant squanders his bonus check. Playing the ponies or buying an iPhone or treating himself to a nice dinner, Jesus doesn’t say — only that the ungrateful servant did “nothing” with his boss’s largesse.

So the boss, who may have been a secret socialist, took the third servant’s “talents” and redistributed the wealth to the other two more deserving servants.

“What does that have to do with politics?” Wells asks.

Nothing, but let’s factcheck the rest of Wells’ catechism.

He writes: “The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is entrusted with a budget of $228 million a year to protect our environment – including our drinking water. And it has the legal power to regulate or prohibit industrial dumping of hazardous chemicals.”

First, Wells makes it sound like the legislature has appropriated $228 million to DEQ. Not true. Lawmakers appropriated $78 million for the next budget cycle and $77 million for the following one. Most of DEQ’s money comes from federal grants for very specific projects, and which are in jeopardy under the Trump administration; plus fees, receipts and taxes, such as those assessed on scrap tires.

Second, yes DEQ has the authority to regulate or prohibit the industrial dumping of hazardous chemicals. However, GenX has not been designated a hazardous chemical by the EPA. In fact, it’s not been designated anything at all other than an unregulated, emerging contaminant. And under the Hardison amendment, supported by conservative, anti-regulatory lawmakers such as Wells, DEQ can’t enact a rule that has a stronger standard than the federal government’s.

Wells goes on: So far, DEQ’s explanations have been murky. And, at times, contradictory. For instance, in June the department announced it had stopped all GenX dumping. But then, two weeks later, it announced it had discovered a new GenX discharge into the river.

DEQ did announce Chemours had stopped all GenX discharges from its plant. However, sampling conducted by Chemours showed the levels of GenX were higher than expected considering the company had supposedly stopped discharging. DEQ investigated and found other areas of the plant that were discharging the chemical.

But wait, there’s more: Finding out what happened may take a while, so I was not expecting all the answers when I watched the Governor, along with his top administrators, speak at their press conference in Wilmington. But there was a surprise: DEQ did not sound all that contrite. It didn’t say it had made mistakes. Instead, it said it needed more money. That its $228 million budget wasn’t enough.

I guess that’s possible. But it may also be that – as in the Parable of the Talents – the people who were given $228 million to spend to protect the environment haven’t done a very good job.

DEQ seemed caught off-guard by the GenX revelation, and we still aren’t sure who knew what when, including the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which is on the front lines of keeping water safe to drink. However, Wells’s sin of omission is his failure to detail the budget cuts the legislature has handed down to DEQ. These cuts have had very real consequences for the health and environment. And at the legislature’s funding of two questionable pet projects would actually cover the $2 million DEQ has requested in emergency funding: $1.3 million to a no-bid contract for SePro to use its secret chemical formula on Jordan Lake, and another million dollars to clean up a very low-priority hazardous waste site in Sen. Norm Sanderson’s district. (Sanderson signed the Senate Republican Caucus letter essentially rebuffing DEQ’s funding request.)

Lawmakers are the servants of the people. Yet these elected officials have funded charter schools, some of whose spending habits are questionable, and thus, by Wells’s logic, are also ungrateful servants. Lawmakers have given the state agriculture department a quarter-million dollars to fight an environmental lawsuit that will never come to pass — without the requirement that the money revert to the general fund.

Perhaps lawmakers with billions of dollars to spend to serve the people of North Carolina haven’t done a very good job.


One Comment

  1. richard manyes

    August 11, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Sheesh – really? First of all, the Clean Water Act and the NC regulations implementing it require DEQ to regulate any compounds that pose a public health threat. DEQ statements and the ones in this article are simply wrong on that – the statements by DEQ apparently designed to protect Chemours, and the ones in this article are designed to protect Cooper. But the “Hardison” amendment (which is not applicable here because the federal law does require regulation of these compounds in an ad hoc fashion) explicitly provides for an exemption in cases where the public health is threatened.

    Can we please stop the politics and get on with cleaning the water?

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