Gov. Roy Cooper’s 500-plus page environmental budget would increasing funding by 17 to 20 percent for the state Department of Environmental Quality, the target of withering cuts by the Republican-led legislature over the last eight years.
Most notably, DEQ would receive more money to address two of the state’s biggest environmental challenges — emerging chemical contaminants in drinking water and pollution from industrialized hog farms — according to the governor’s new budget proposal.
For Year 1, Gov. Cooper’s budget recommends an appropriation of $95 million, up from $79 million currently in the base budget, a 20 percent increase. In Year 2 of the biennium, the recommended appropriation totals $93 million, a 17.5 percent increase.
More than half of DEQ’s current $193 million budget comes from federal grants, fees and other service-based receipts.
The legislature rarely aligns with the governor’s budget recommendations for DEQ. Since 2011, the Republican-majority legislature has slashed the department’s budget, and some lawmakers — Sen. Andy Wells and Rep. Jimmy Dixon, among them –have been openly hostile to increasing funding for DEQ.
The governor’s budget would add $6 million and 37 full-time equivalent positions to test, monitor and increase detection and prevention of perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — in water and air. A portion of the money would also support the Bernard Allen Memorial Drinking Water Fund, which pays for monitoring and testing and, when necessary, alternate water supplies for low-income North Carolinians whose private wells have been contaminated. The fund kicks in only if the polluter is unknown or can’t pay for the clean up, usually because it has declared bankruptcy.
Gov. Cooper is also requesting a $30 million bond for DEQ to upgrade its Reedy Creek Road laboratory. The facility, which tests water and air samples, was built in 1991 and has never been renovated.
Three new positions would be created to help hog, poultry and cattle farmers manage wastewater and comply with state regulations. And $125,000 in grants would be available for qualified farmers whose waste lagoons and sprayfields are in the 100-year flood plain. The money would cover up to half the cost of installing groundwater monitoring wells, required under a civil rights settlement between neighbors of the hog farms and DEQ.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to local governments for wastewater treatment facilities, would receive an $829,000 boost in matching funds. A similar program for drinking water would get an additional $2.6 million.
Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network, issued a statement supporting the governor’s recommendations. “We are pleased that the governor’s budget proposal recognizes the need to address some of the significant threats to North Carolina’s water and public health – like chemical contaminants and industrial hog waste — and we hope the leadership in the legislature will recognize this need as well,” Buzby said. “The Department of Environmental Quality has seen drastic cuts to its clean water programs in recent years and fulfilling these budget requests would be a strong step in the right direction.”
Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton, who is with the Haw River Assembly, said the group is “encouraged to see” the governor’s additions to the budget. North Carolinian’s have been exposed to emerging contaminants in their drinking water for too long; it’s time this issue is addressed. We urge lawmakers to follow his steps and begin prioritizing people over polluting industries.”