Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

Gov. Cooper asks lawmakers for emergency funds for DEQ, DHHS over GenX; Sec’y Cohen says water is safe

GenX levels have dropped below state public health goals in the Lower Cape Fear River in Wilmington but residents are still concerned about the safety of their drinking water. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Gov. Roy Cooper and state health and environmental officials today tried to assure Wilmington residents that their drinking water is safe, even if it contains low levels of GenX, an unregulated chemical found in the Lower Cape Fear River.

Meanwhile, Cooper unveiled a plan at the press conference to investigate not only GenX, but other unregulated contaminants in the state’s public water systems. This includes an assessment by the State Bureau of Investigation as to whether a criminal probe is warranted and $3 million in emergency funding for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

.@NC_Governor We shouldn't have to have a public health situation to get those resources Click To Tweet,

Seven weeks ago, the Wilmington Star-News first published scientific findings about GenX in the Cape Fear. At that point, DHHS set an original goal of 70,000 parts trillion for the chemical. This is a lifetime exposure of drinking roughly 2 liters of water a day, and is based on one animal study provided by the EPA — the only science the federal agency said was available. DHHS later reduced that goal when federal officials produced a second “proprietary” study. “We wish we would have had that initially,” Cohen said. “We’re looking at every bit of available evidence.”

Cooper said he has also requested a public health assessment review of GenX from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cooper and DEQ are asking state lawmakers for $3 million in emergency resource funding to review not only GenX but also other unregulated chemicals, such as 1-4 dioxane and Chromium 6, in drinking water. NCPW reported on Thursday about  the scientific and regulatory inertia in addressing the health risks of these chemicals.

Ten years’ worth of cuts, which have become especially acute since Republican lawmakers have held the majority, have decimated DEQ. Funding for water quality staff has decreased by 41 percent over the past decade, and the most recent state budget cut $1 million in salaries and eliminated a minimum of 16 positions throughout the agency.

The $3 million figure for inspectors, environmental specialists and engineers, said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan, “is conservative, but gets us in fighting shape.”

Regan said the department is already “combing through our permits” to ensure no other releases of GenX are happening.

DHHS is also requesting money for water health safety unit, which would include a toxicologist, epidemiologist and a health educator. Lawmakers are scheduled to hold a special session on Thursday, Aug. 3. However, until this funding request, it appeared that it would merely perfunctory until the next special session in September.

Although Chemours has since stopped releasing GenX into the river from its Fayetteville plant, state environmental officials plan to deny the company’s ability to discharge GenX as part of its wastewater discharge permit. The permit has expired and is up for renewal. DEQ officials had administratively continued the permit until the state investigation into the company’s discharge of GenX is complete.

“I have directed my administration to perform their work as if they and their families would be drinking this water,” Cooper said.

Cooper also is asking the State Bureau of Investigation, DEQ and the EPA to determine if a criminal probe is warranted into Chemours’s discharge of the chemical into the Lower Cape Fear River. That chemical, which is unregulated by the EPA, wound up in the public drinking water of 250,000 people living in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.

A federal consent order related to a case in West Virginia prohibits Chemours from discharging GenX into waterways unless it is a byproduct of manufacturing. Chemours has contended that the Cooper said he also spoke with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to “see if that consent order needs to be updated and tightened.

On Friday, the state attorney general’s office launched a civil investigation, demanding extensive documentation and information from Chemours.

GenX is one of hundreds of unregulated contaminants classified as “emerging” by the EPA. The health effects of these contaminants have not been fully studied. “I’m concerned about other compounds,” Cooper said. As a result, DEQ will required “enhanced disclosure” of companies seeking discharge permits. The governor is also expanding the scope of DEQ’s Science Advisory Board to examine unregulated compounds and their potential threat to public health.

Regan is expected to announce his appointments to the advisory board by the end of July.

The press conference occurred after Cooper, Regan and Cohen met with state and New Hanover County elected officials this morning. In what is becoming a common practice, that meeting included a pool reporter from the Wilmington Star-News, but no other journalists were allowed to attend.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

“Not off our coast”: Gov. Roy Cooper opposes offshore drilling

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that his office would file an official comment to the federal government opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing. (Screenshot: Gov. Roy Cooper Facebook page)

Citing the environmental and economic risks to North Carolina’s sensitive shoreline, Gov. Roy Cooper today said he opposes seismic testing offshore drilling. “It’s a bad deal for our state,” Cooper said. “We will let Washington know loud and clear that North Carolina is opposed to it.”

Cooper made the announcement at Fort Macon this morning. He said his office would send a letter to the federal government stating its opposition. The deadline for public comment on seismic testing, a precursor to offshore drilling, is Friday, July 21. NCPW reported on the risks of seismic testing in early July.

North Carolina’s coastal tourism industry accounts for 30,000 jobs and $3 billion annually; commercial fishing adds another $95 million. Areas of the coast also are home to some of the nation’s — and the globe’s — most ecological diverse areas.

“But there is a threat looming over this coastline we love and the prosperity it brings — that’s the threat of offshore drilling,” he said. “They would be opening the coast to oil and gas drilling for little potential gain. The risks outweigh the benefits.”

Cooper added that with the renewable sources, such as solar, “there are too many reliable energy options,” other than oil and gas.

Cooper’s stance starkly contrasts with that of his predecessor, Gov. Pat McCrory, who supported offshore drilling in North Carolina.

A native of Nash County, Cooper remarked that he spent much of his childhood on the coast — and brought his own children here as well. “This place is a part of who I am, as it is for many of you.Environmental groups are applauding the governor’s stance.

“Today Governor Cooper listened to all of North Carolina’s coastal communities who’ve been calling for the protection of our coast,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “As Governor Cooper underscored, there’s just too much at risk for North Carolina with offshore drilling — beautiful white sand beaches that draw tourists from around the world, rich estuaries and fishing industry, and a whole Southern and coastal way of life.

“Now it’s time for President Trump to do the same. North Carolina has spoken. It’s time for Washington to listen.”

Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network issued a comment as well:

“We want to thank Gov. Cooper for taking a bold and necessary step toward protecting our state’s coastline from the environmental and economic threats posed by offshore drilling.”

Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations at the NC League of Conservation Voters:

“Governor Cooper not only hears the concerns of his constituents — he acts on them. North Carolina has been waiting for a leader willing to come out swinging against fossil fuel specials interests for four long years.”

Erin Carey, coastal coordinator for the NC Sierra Club:

“Today Governor Cooper sent a strong, clear message to the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry that our coast is not for sale. The natural beauty and economic engine North Carolina’s coast represents is worth more than potential profits for oil companies.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, public health

“People of NC require your protection”: Gov. Cooper urges EPA to quickly set a safety standard for GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper: Asking the EPA for multiple health studies about GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today seeking “urgent action to get us answers and solutions” about the health risks of GenX in drinking water. “We need the EPA to move more quickly to finalize its health assessment of GenX and set a maximum contaminant level for it,” Cooper wrote.

GenX is a byproduct of the manufacture of Teflon and non-stick surfaces. Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, has discharged GenX into the Lower Cape Fear River for decades, but only within the last 18 months have scientists from the EPA and NC State University discovered the chemical in the water. Since then, GenX has been detected at high levels in the drinking water leaving the public utility plants — no traditional treatment method removes it — although the amounts have decreased over the past three weeks since Chemours stopped discharging it into the river. Residents in parts of Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties, including the City of Wilmington, presumably have been drinking GenX-contaminated water.

An emerging contaminant, it is not regulated, and thus the EPA has not set a health standard for it. However, last week the state health department set a health goal for GenX of no more than 140 parts per trillion — a drastic reduction from the original 70,000 ppt DHHS had proposed.

The EPA, DuPont and Chemours already agreed to a 2009 consent order requiring the companies to reduce the amount of C8, a chemically similar precursor to GenX, in drinking water of residents living near the Washington Works facility in Parkersburg, W.V. However, as Cooper wrote, Chemours has stated that it believes the order doesn’t apply to the Fayetteville plant. “I ask that the EPA revisit this consent order immediately and modify it to apply to any and all release of GenX.”

 

7-17 Letter to Epa_0 by LisaSorg on Scribd

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Hold your sprayers: Gov. Cooper puts the kibosh on leachate bill

Leachate won’t start spewing garbage juice for at least another month now that Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed House Bill 576. The measure would require state environmental officials to permit an untested technology that sprays leachate from landfills into the air. The theory is the larger, harmful contaminated particles will drop to the surface of the landfill, leaving smaller particles to float away. However, scientific studies on other types of waste sprays show that viruses, bacteria and other small contaminants can travel for miles, depending on the wind, topography and humidity.

“Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “With use of the word ‘shall,’ the legislature mandates a technology winner, limiting future advancements that may provide better protection.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County, the bill was controversial from the get-go. Environmental advocates and many Democrats opposed the bill because of safety concerns. Dixon repeatedly said the technology was safe, but offered no pertinent data or proof.

The leachate spraying system was invented by Kelly Houston of Cornelius. Last year, he contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Trudy Wade when the bill language was being inserted into an omnibus measure. That provision failed in the waning days of the 2016 short session.

This year, Wade carried water for the bill on the Senate side, which passed it 29-14. The House also passed it 75-45. Lawmakers could vote on an override, which requires a three-fifths majority, when the first special session convenes Aug. 3.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

DEQ budget still meager, cuts 16.75 jobs, but includes money for pet projects

“Reorganization Through Reduction”: George Orwell couldn’t have said it better.

The spirit of George Orwell must have been hovering over House and Senate conferees when they drafted the state environmental budget. “Reorganization through Reduction” is the very gentle term budget writers used to tell NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan to do a very dirty job: Find $1.9 million in savings over two years — somewhere.

Lay off employees, scale back programs, use fewer paper clips, whatever it takes.

At $77 million in the first fiscal year, the DEQ conference budget, unveiled yesterday at 11:10 p.m. by the House and Senate conference committee, is more generous than the Senate version — a low bar, indeed. It is stingier than the House‘s and it falls far short of the $84.8 million appropriation that Gov. Roy Cooper had recommended.

The second fiscal year is even leaner for DEQ, just $76.8 million, after the Reorganization program concludes.

“The budget cuts core functions beyond the bone,” said Grady McCallie, policy director for the NC Conservation Network. “And it will leave our rivers, lakes and drinking water sources exposed to more pollution while threatening the ability of DEQ to adequately inform the public about environmental health risks.”

The DEQ budget also contains a policy report, which also places further fiscal limitations on the agency.  This document includes restrictions on the allocation of Volkswagen Settlement Funds. North Carolina is due $87 million — certainly not chump change — from a federal lawsuit against the car maker because it cheating on its diesel emissions tests. The state can use the money on projects that will reduce air emissions from cars, trucks and trains. But the conference budget requires the General Assembly, not DEQ or the Department of Transportation, to approve distribution of those funds. Lawmakers, undoubtedly, will want some of that money spent directly in their districts on pet projects.

Speaking of pet projects, the budget’s big winners: SePro, the chemical company whose powerful lobbyist Harold Brubaker has convinced lawmakers to spend $1.3 million on a sketchy algae-killing treatment for Jordan Lake. The City of Havelock,  inexplicably jumps to the front of a very long line of needy projects and receives $1 million to “repurpose” the old Phoenix recycling site.

The budget’s semi-winners: Oysters, which will receive $1 million in recurring funds for necessary sanctuaries. Twenty-nine DEQ employees, including Chief Deputy Col. John Nicholson, whose jobs were saved from the Senate guillotine. NC A&T and Appalachian State universities, who can keep $200,000 each for energy research. (Check back on Thursday for a larger story about rearrangements to the state energy office and general provisions to the energy portion of the budget.)

The budget’s losers — and this is just the short list: NC State University’s energy program, whose funding was eliminated. The myriad other ways DEQ touches North Carolinians lives: fortifying coastal communities’ response to climate change, consistently monitoring water quality in the sounds, protecting people — usually low-income and minority neighborhoods — from contamination in old landfills. And the 16-plus DEQ employees, including seven in the vital regional offices, where much of the permitting takes place. They will have to pack their desks if the cuts survive the full House and Senate votes. Not to worry, lawmakers say, it’s only a reorganization.