While its House counterpart was holding hearings and hammering out legislation, the Senate Select Committee on River Quality has met one time. It has proposed not a single bill. Since Oct. 3, the committee has essentially disappeared.
Senate River Quality members, along with the rest of their Senate colleagues, then bailed on a vote to study the problem of GenX and emerging contaminants and to fund DEQ to do the work.
The Star-News of Wilmington first reported the contents of the letter, sent on Jan. 23.
The senators requested that the EPA review environmental officials’ handling of the NPDES program — federal wastewater discharge permits whose authority are delegated to the states. Under the guise of “assistance to North Carolina” the subtext of the two-page letter is that DEQ has independently decided, through rules and procedures, not to protect human health and the environment.
The senators posed several questions, some asking for federal guidance about emerging contaminants — guidance DEQ says the EPA is already providing. (DEQ Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman has debriefed the House River Quality Committee and the Environmental Review Commission on these discussions with the EPA. Wade chairs the Environmental Review Commission; Wells is a member.)
Other questions could be answered through a simple Google search:
- “Is there adequate public notice of the permitting process and access under federal law?”
DEQ lays out the permitting process on its website, including the required 30-day public notice for new, renewed and major modifications. (Ironically, the 30-day notice is published in a local newspaper and online; Wade sponsored a bill last year to remove the local newspaper requirement for public notices.)
Consult the EPA website or head over to the Cornell Law School, which lays out the notice requirements.
Answer: DEQ complies.
- “Are there improvements needed in DEQ’s internal review process of permit applications that would lead to a more through and timely review of these applications?”
Answer: Yes, but with context. DEQ has widely publicized its staff cuts — 70 positions in water quality lost over the past decade because of legislative budget slashing — that the agency says has led to a backlog of NPDES permits.
EPA defines backlog as “permits administratively continued beyond their expiration date for 180 days or more” or facilities awaiting their “first NPDES permits for longer than 365 days after submitting an application.” Chemours’s permit is among those that had expired and then been administratively continued.
EPA has set a goal for all its regions and the states to be 90 percent current on their permits. For major permits, only nine states have hit that benchmark. North Carolina’s backlog is 66.8 percent, according to 2017 EPA figures. Eighteen states have a higher percentage of delinquent permit reviews; 31 are performing better than North Carolina.