Commentary

Editorial: Why is Senator Berger ignoring a serious public-safety concern?

The StarNews Editorial Board bluntly asks in its Tuesday paper: Does Berger even care about GenX?

The newspaper that first broke the story of the emerging contaminant in the Cape Fear last year notes that it is long past due for Senate leadership to act.

Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

With voter outcry growing and crossing traditional partisan lines (a toxic chemical in your drinking water has a way of doing that), the House recently passed a bill that provides a much-needed boost to DEQ, enabling the overburdened and underfunded agency to respond more effectively to the GenX contamination, which has widened in both scope and geography.

But [Senate leader Phil ] Berger — the state’s most powerful political leader — is having none of it. We don’t know what his motives are, but we suspect they are simply political, related to the larger effort to make our traditionally moderate state a testing ground for laissez-faire government and faith that the invisible hand of the market will balance any corporate excesses like, say, contaminating the drinking water of a good chunk of the state’s population with a toxic chemical that, by design, pretty much never decomposes.

The good news is, the House now seems committed to better funding for DEQ, at least for the GenX response. In the Senate, Berger rules with an iron fist. So we have no doubt that he could turn the switch in an instant and have the chamber take up the House bill, quickly get it approved, and give DEQ the resources it needs to do its job.

Meanwhile, we are thinking about the folks we see with shopping carts full of nothing but bottled water; the kids who come over to play with our children, instructed not to drink the water; those affected by the economic uncertainty GenX has caused, including possible lost job opportunities after new companies nixed Wilmington as a location, or existing businesses opted not to expand here.

We are thinking, too, about those who now can’t help but look back at cancers and other illnesses — even deaths — with new questions; there’s no proof of any connection with little-studied GenX, we know; but we understand the questions and the fear.

What we don’t understand is Berger’s callous response to the very legitimate concerns of the good people of Southeastern North Carolina. Come down here and meet some of them, Sen. Berger. Maybe that would persuade you to act.

For now, we guess we’re supposed to believe Berger and Chemours have got our backs.

We have, however, spotted the “invisible hand” that’s supposed to help protect us. It’s flying high in Raleigh — symbolically, of course — directed toward Southeastern North Carolina, and with a certain finger extended upward.

Without a change of heart by Senator Berger, the earliest the General Assembly might revisit the GenX issue would be mid-May when they reconvene.

Read the Star News full editorial here.

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