Commentary

Fayetteville, Wilmington newspaper editorials differ on GenX settlement

It’s not a huge disagreement, but it seems worth noting that the editorial pages of two sibling newspapers differ somewhat on the recent settlement negotiated with Chemours by state environmental regulators over the company’s GenX water and air pollution. The Fayetteville Observer praised the agreement and the parties who drove and negotiated it yesterday afternoon in an editorial entitled “New pact broadens action against GenX”:

A new agreement dealing with contamination in the Cape Fear River will add protection for those who have been exposed to chemicals emanating from the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line. It especially expands a previous agreement’s safeguards for people living downstream from the plant….

The new plan has several provisions that reflect the downstream utilities’ concerns, including:

  • Measuring and analyzing Chemours’ PFAS contamination at the water intakes of the downstream utilities.
  • Analyzing the levels of PFAS contamination in river sediment.
  • Providing those utilities an accelerated plan to cut PFAS levels in the river.
  • Removing 99 percent of the surface and groundwater contamination from an old outfall at the Chemours plant site.

After explaining the nature of the mess the agreement seeks to address, it concludes this way:

Kudos for the new agreement, especially to Cape Fear River Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents it in court actions. They have played a key role in making progress on a serious problem.

In contrast, the Wilmington Star-News was less enthusiastic — especially with what it sees as the agreement’s failure to provide a “seat at the table” for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. This is from “GenX response remains inadequate for Wilmington area”:

Since the proposed settlement was first announced in late November, we have been critical of the deal and the process that led to it; not so much for what they contained (the order does many good things) but what the order and the process do not contain: mainly, a seat at the table for any public body or officials from our area. Notably absent is any representative from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

On Dec. 20, CFPUA filed a motion to intervene in NCDEQ’s lawsuit against Chemours. CFPUA argues — and we agree — that the “proposed order is not adequate to protect CFPUA’s interests or remedy CFPUA’s harms caused by Chemours’ PFAS releases to the Cape Fear River.” A ruling on CFPUA’s motion is still pending. CFPUA officials said Wednesday afternoon they were still reviewing the revised order.

Regardless of the outcome, this particular legal wrangling is only part of the much-bigger issue of the health of our rivers and, ultimately, the safety of our water supply.

What happened Wednesday is another small step in the right direction, but it’s imperative that the General Assembly gets our waterway-pollution problems under control. Even if the GenX issue were to be satisfactorily resolved, we have no idea what’s coming down the river next.

Let’s get this problem fixed — now.

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