Commentary

Fact sheet skewers NC legislature’s two-faced posturing on clean water

[Lisa Sorg will have more details on this developing story in this space shortly.] The General Assembly passed legislation today that purports to be about protecting North Carolinians from chemicals in the Cape Fear River. As multiple experts have noted, however, the issue is vastly more complex and potentially serious (and requires a much more concerted response) than is contemplated or provided for in House Bill 56 — a measure that, ironically, contains other provisions to lessen environmental rules at the behest of polluters. As Governor Roy Cooper aptly noted after the passage of the bill:

“Clean water that is threatened by chemicals we know little about requires a strong, united and well funded statewide response. A sprinkle of local funds hooked to bad environmental legislation doesn’t help. I ask Republican legislators to work with us to protect the water all over our state.”

Of course, the other bitter irony in today’s action is the fact that it comes on top of years of neglect and/or affirmative attacks on clean water by the conservative majority at the General Assembly. For confirmation of this ad truth, check out the fact sheet released today by the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club that outlines more than a dozen examples of recent legislation that has impaired the state’s ability to protect water quality. This is from the fact sheet:

Passed in 2017 and recent years:

  • 2017 – HB 56 Amend Environmental Laws: Contains a variety of proposals that would negatively impact water quality including two unnecessary exemptions to riparian buffer rules and repeal of the Outer Banks plastic bag ban that protects sea turtles and prevents litter.
  • 2017 – SB 16 – Business Regulatory Reform Act of 2017 (vetoed): Sec. 14“Stormwater/redevelopment” would forbid the Environmental Management Commission from requiring any control of stormwater during redevelopment beyond that required for the incremental increase in built-upon area. This is a problem because the way to improve waters impaired by stormwater pollution is to retrofit development. The most efficient way to retrofit is to do so when buildings are rebuilt. Local governments cannot escape the federal obligation to take measures improve the water quality of impaired streams; this provision makes the task more difficult.
  • 2017 – HB 576 – Allow Aerosolization of Leachate (vetoed): Requires DEQ to allow the spraying of landfill wastewater over landfills, which presents risks to workers and neighbors.
  • 2017 – SB 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017 (vetoed; veto overridden): Pushes DEQ to experimentally test chemical algaecides in major drinking water reservoirs, Jordan and Falls lakes.
  • 2017 – SB 131 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2016 – 2017: Reduced stream protections and stormwater controls.
  • 2016 – HB 1030 – 2016 Appropriations Act: Contained a fourth delay of the Jordan Lake cleanup rules and allocated $1.3M to study in-lake treatment options instead of addressing pollution at the source.
  • 2015 – HB 795 SEPA Reform: The landmark State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact to communities and the environment (including water quality) is taken into consideration. HB 795 was effectively a repeal of SEPA since very few projects now have to go through the review process.
  • 2015 – HB 765 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2015: Weakened protections for nearly half of our state’s streams. Half of North Carolina’s stream miles are intermittent (or seasonal), meaning that they only flow during wet parts of the year. HB 765 prohibited the state from requiring restoration to offset destruction of intermittent streams, which are crucial for downstream drinking water quality, and are only partially protected by federal law. Another provision weakened controls on stormwater pollution at the coast.
  • 2015 – HB 97 – 2015 Appropriations Act: Delayed implementation of the Jordan Lake cleanup rules for the third time.
  • 2014 – SB 734 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2014: Rolled back protections for isolated wetlands which recharge our aquifers and protect against flooding. Created exemptions from coastal stormwater requirements that protect water quality.
  • 2013 – SB 515 – Jordan Lake Water Quality Act: Delayed implementation of the Jordan Lake cleanup rules for the second time.
  • 2013 – SB 315 – Municipal Services: Forced the City of Durham to provide water and sewer services to a controversial proposed development that was planned to be located next to Jordan Lake, thus encouraging runoff into one of the most highly polluted parts of the lake.

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