agriculture, Environment

Legislators have gone home, but the week ahead includes key dates on Chemours, coal ash, red wolves, hog waste and more

Red wolves are featured in a diorama at the Coastal North Carolina Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitor Center in Manteo. US Fish and Wildlife is proposing new rules that would allow people to legally kill them outside of Dare County. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

The Legislative Building might be quiet as a tomb, but state and federal agencies are crafting critical environmental policies that will affect North Carolina’s air, water and endangered species.

Tuesday, July 10: Already on the brink of extinction in the wild, the 40 or so endangered red wolves have a dim future in eastern North Carolina. Federal wildlife officials want to allow people to kill them outside of government lands in Dare County, a proposal that runs counter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission of keeping species from being snubbed out.

USFWS would reduce the existing red wolf recovery area from six counties to just one. Wolves who wander outside “protected” territory, which includes the Dare Bombing Range, can be killed without a federal permit. This habitat can support no more than 15 wolves, and any ahem, “extraneous” animals could be removed from the wild and shipped off to zoos and nature centers, where they’ll spend the rest of their lives essentially on house arrest.

USFWS is hosting a public meeting on its proposal  from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with a public hearing to follow at 7 p.m. at Roanoke Festival Park in Manteo.

Duke Energy wants to build a fly ash processing facility at its HF Lee plant in Goldsboro, which could convert up to 300,000 tons of coal ash or reuse in cement, annually. There are two other such projects in North Carolina at the utility’s Buck and Cape Fear plants, built under the 2016 coal ash management law. That law requires Duke Energy to identify three of it ash impoundments within North Carolina where the waste can be processed for beneficial use.  While that helps draw down the ash stored in impoundments, a critical source of groundwater pollution, these operations can still emit pollutants such as lead, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter. 

A public hearing on the proposed project is slated for 7 p.m. at Wayne Community College, Moffatt Auditorium, 3000 Wayne Memorial Drive, in Goldsboro. Interested parties may submit written or oral comments during the public hearing. The public comment period remains open until July 13; you can also send comments via email to DEQ.

Jury selection begins for the third hog nuisance trial in US District Court in Raleigh. This case is out of Pender County, where neighbors of Greenwood Farms, a 10,000-hog operation, are suing Murphy-Brown, the world’s largest pork producer. Murphy-Brown lost its first two cases, in Bladen and Duplin counties, respectively. The NC Farm Act, passed by legislators last month, ensures that these lawsuits against livestock or forestry operators will be the last of their kind, unless someone challenges the statute on constitutional grounds.

Wednesday, July 11: Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are often burdened with the environmental fallout from natural gas pipelines, Superfund sites, polluting industries or enormous hog operations. Yet these issues are often given short shrift by government agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which all but ignored environmental justice concerns in its approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In May, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and Gov. Roy Cooper announced their appointments to state’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board. The group holds its inaugural meeting in Hollister in Halifax County, at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Government Complex,  39021 Hwy 561 from 1 to 5 p.m.

Today is the last day to comment on DEQ’s proposed court order against Chemours over its discharge and emissions of GenX and similar compounds. In June, DEQ filed paperwork in Bladen County Superior Court, asking a judge to impose several environmental requirements on the company:

  • Reduce facility-wide air emissions of GenX compounds by at least 97 percent by Aug. 31, 2018, with a 99 percent reduction required by Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Conduct re-testing of private drinking wells on a quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis, depending on the level of GenX compounds detected in the initial round of testing.
  • Provide permanent alternative water supplies or treatment systems to households impacted by groundwater contamination.
  • Conduct toxicity studies relating to human health and aquatic life impacts from chemicals at the facility.
  • Notify and coordinate with downstream public water utilities when an event at the facility has the potential to cause a discharge of GenX compounds into the Cape Fear River above the health goal of 140 parts per trillion.Send comments to Assistant Secretary’s Office, RE: Chemours Public Comment, 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1601 Public comments may also be submitted by email to:comments.chemours@ncdenr.gov.

While its proceedings sometimes require an IV infusion of coffee, the Environmental Management Commission nonetheless conducts important rulemaking that often goes unnoticed. The committee meetings for air, groundwater, water quality and water allocation are staggered throughout the day, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Archdale Building off Halifax Mall.

On the agenda: A discussion of the federal list of impaired waters in North Carolina, also known as the 303(d). This list is key to learning the location of some of the state’s most troubled waters and their pollution sources. The EMC will also hearing about proposed changes to the state’s groundwater standards, some of them more stringent and others less so.

Thursday, July 12: Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is gone, no doubt stopping by the Ritz-Carlton for his favorite skin lotion en route back to Oklahoma. But his legacy of environmental deregulation continues. States can ask the EPA for permission to set their own coal ash disposal rules (not surprisingly, Oklahoma, Pruitt’s adopted state, was the first). This can create a race to the bottom, particularly in states where environmental laws are weak and/or reined in by anti-regulatory legislators: Exhibit A being North Carolina.

Today beginning at 9 a.m., the full EMC will decide on preliminary coal ash disp0osal rules, as well as an receive an update on illegal seeps from Duke Energy’s Buck and Belews Creek plants, hog waste rules and emerging compounds, such as GenX.

The panel will also hear recommendations about 2T rules, which are more interesting than they sound. These rules govern, among other noxious enterprises, swine waste lagoons and the spread of manure on farm fields. The rules inexplicably classify wastewater from swine waste lagoons as “non-discharge,” because the material supposedly doesn’t enter waterways. History, both distant and recent, has proved that theory false.

Last September, a million gallons of feces-laden wastewater entered the Trent River from an industrialized hog farm in Jones County. It wasn’t the first, nor the second, third, or even fourth violation for Lanier Farms. In February, the state fined it $64,000 and Murphy-Brown, which owned the hogs, “depopulated” the farm, aka pulled its pigs.

During a public hearing last year, several people told the state that industrialized livestock operations should be regulated under a federal system, known as NPDES. These federal permits are administered by the state but have more stringent requirements for discharges. Hearing officers for the EMC are recommending that the state “engage stakeholders in a discussion about such differences to determine any need for future State permitting rules clarification.” Translation: The rules aren’t changing. Consider the can kicked down the road.

 

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