Environment, Legislature

Complaint: Lawmakers could be sued over leachate bill because their election wasn’t legit

Leachate aerosolization can spray thousands of gallons of wastewater per minute. (Screenshot from Kelly Houston’s leachate aerosolization website)

If lawmakers override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the leachate aerosolization bill, they could open themselves to a lawsuit, according to court documents filed in the Covington redistricting case.

Attached to a legal brief is a declaration and a letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center. It states that since 28 seats in the legislature are the result of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, the General Assembly has as a whole, “assumed usurper status.” With the 28 seats now in question, SELC contends, the legislature “no longer has the authority to override gubernatorial vetoes.” And nor will it, the court documents read, “until constitutional districts are drawn and legal” and a General Assembly lawfully elected.

One legislator told NCPW that there appears to be enough votes in the Senate to trump Cooper’s veto. A third-fifths majority is required in each chamber to override a veto. In the Senate, that would equal 30 votes; in the House, it take 72.

When the bill was up for its original vote, it passed the Senate 29-14, with four Republicans and two Democrats being absent. The House passed the bill 75-45.

On July 21, Derb Carter Jr. of the SELC sent a letter to Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger. “If the usurper legislature does attempt to override the veto, it opens itself up to litigation,” the letter reads. The matter could go to court where the SELC could ask for a declaratory judgment that the leachate law is “unconstitutional and void.”

House Bill 576 would require state environmental officials to allow landfill owners to use untested technology to dispose of contaminated leachate. Essentially, landfill juice that is currently collected in tanks and hauled offsite would be sprayed from a large snowblower-like apparatus into the air. That raises public health and environmental concerns because it’s unclear what types of contaminants would fall onto the landfill itself and what would float downwind. Last year, the inventor of the technology, Kelly Houston, contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Trudy Wade, who has supported the bill twice in the Senate. Rep. Jimmy Dixon sponsored it in the House.

 

Declaration of Derb Carter SELC by LisaSorg on Scribd

agriculture, Environment, Legislature

As EPA prepares to rescind the Waters of the US rule, state ag department has an extra $250K sitting around

A problem a lot of state agencies wish they had: Where to spend an extra $250,000? (Photo: Philip Taylor, Creative Commons)

H ouse lawmakers handed the state Department of Agriculture $250,000 to fight a legal battle that is all but moot. And now, unlike many cash-strapped agencies, the department has an extra quarter-million dollars that it needs to spend.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced late last week that he would rescind the Waters of the United States rule to less stringent, pre-2015 regulations. It is the first step in redefining what constitutes waterways that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Big ag opposed the rule because swine and cattle farms were subject to stricter environmental regulations if their runoff reached waterways regulated under WOTUS.

The House siphoned the money from a rural grants program and gave it to the state agriculture department to pay for its legal battle against the WOTUS rule. (The amount is less than the $1 million the Senate had proposed extracting from the Department of Environmental Quality for that purpose.) The funding survived negotiations in the conference committee and made it into the final budget, now law.

Budget language allows the Department of Agriculture to use the money to hire and pay for outside counsel — ironically, a legal prerogative lawmakers stripped from Gov. Cooper. But the budget doesn’t detail what happens to the money should the department choose not to pursue a lawsuit. For example, some department budgets revert unused money to the General Fund.

If Pruitt completes the rollback as expected, the state agriculture department will have to decide how to spend its windfall. “As of yet, no decision has been made about how the department will use the appropriation if WOTUS is rescinded,” Agriculture Department Public Affairs Director Brian Long said in an email.

The agriculture budget does list worthy programs in the department that undoubtedly could use more funding: Money is needed to buy out swine farms in the 100-year flood plain; currently, it can receive unused funds from the Forest Service for that purpose. Or the department could preserve more farmland. Or it could toss a few dollars to the beehive grant fund, which is open to donations. Or work in concert with DEQ to identify levels of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in surface, ground and drinking water.

Even though Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has long opposed WOTUS, his department didn’t even request the money, according to Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Guilford County. At a House ag committee meeting last month, she also noted that the Trump administration was rolling back WOTUS, making the appropriation obsolete.

For these reasons, Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, called the the department funding “not a wise use of taxpayer money.”

agriculture, Environment, Legislature

Neonic pesticides shorten bees’ lives in newly discovered way — with consequences for our drinking water

These public water systems have granular activated charcoal systems that can filter neonic pesticides from drinking water. (Map courtesy ToxicFree NC, using NC DEQ data)

A new study confirms that honeybees exposed to neonic pesticides, long implicated in their illness and death, send them to an early grave– putting the health of entire hive at risk.

Canadian researchers used “field realistic” exposure levels to study the bees’ health. Skeptics of neonics’ toxicity — the very companies that manufacture the chemicals — often complained that previous studies exposed bees’ to unusually high levels of the pesticide. The “field realistic” study, however, likewise showed neonics, as bees might encounter them in the wild, harm the insects’ health.

Even more surprising, though, is a finding which has implications for human health.

First, the bees in the Canadian study appear to have ingested neonics in a roundabout way: During irrigation or rain, neonic pesticides run off the corn and soybean fields in the water. Other plants in adjacent fields then take up that water as they grow, and honeybees ingest the pesticide via their pollen.

Healthy bee hive at American Tobacco Campus, Durham (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

This same mechanism likely means that neonics are entering the drinking water supply via fields runoff. Unfortunately, state environmental regulators don’t test for the pesticide in surface, ground or drinking water. Last year, the NC Department of Environmental Quality told the state pesticide board that because of a lack of funding and equipment, it does not monitor for neonics in waterways, including drinking water supplies.

Conventional methods used at water treatment plants don’t remove the neonics, according to a University of Iowa study. Granular activated charcoal systems do appear to remove the pesticide.

Preston Peck of Toxic Free NC, a nonprofit based in Raleigh, used DEQ data to create a map of public water supplies in the state that use granular activated charcoal systems. Some, but not all of North Carolina’s major cities have these systems: Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Charlotte and Fayetteville, for example. However Winston-Salem does not; nor do most of the smaller towns and cities.

Peck has repeatedly petitioned the state pesticide board to restrict the use of neonics to only licensed applicators. Despite a half dozen or more presentations from scientists over many months, the board failed to enact a rule to do so.

Peck took his concerns to the legislature. Earlier in the session, Democrat Reps. Pricey Harrison and Grier Martin, and Republican Reps. Chuck McGrady and Mitchell Setzer co-sponsored House Bill 363, which would have accomplished what the pesticide board failed to do. The bill stalled in the House Rules Committee.

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, Legislature

Wind energy sent to time-out for 18 months, HB 589 heads to Gov. Cooper’s desk

A view from the ground of a wind turbine (Photo: Creative Commons, Saintfevrier at Greek Wikipedia)

A t 1 o’clock this morning, the winds in Raleigh were blowing from the southwest at 10 miles per hour, a gentle breeze nonetheless strong enough to move the blades of a wind turbine.

Inside the building, though, a storm brewed over House Bill 589. Earlier in the week, Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, abruptly tacked on a four-year wind energy moratorium to a hard-fought consensus bill that would encourage more solar power in the state.

On Wednesday, the House refused to concur with the amendment. By Thursday, the House and Senate leadership had appointed a conference committee, charging it with breaking the impasse.

On Friday, the committee finally emerged with a compromise. The moratorium on new wind energy permits — or expansions of the sole existing one — would be shortened from four years to 18 months. As in the original amendment, the moratorium would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017.

At 1:26 a.m., the Senate voted 36-4 to approve the bill. Sixteen minutes later, the House did the same, 66-41.

Solar energy would live to see another day. The future of wind energy, though, would be suspended.

As the bill heads to the governor’s desk, the 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm, already generating electricity in eastern North Carolina, will be largely unaffected by the moratorium. Iberdolas, the Spanish firm that owns the project, can’t expand to 150 turbines, as planned. But the farm can continue to operate.

However, in the early stages of federal permitting, the Timbermill, owned by Apex Clean Energy, and the Alligator River wind farms can’t apply for any state permits. Although they could continue engineering and design studies, there is still the risk that future legislation could extend the moratorium. Timbermill, which planned for 105 turbines on 15,000 acres, has already been dealt setbacks in Perquimans County, where the commissioners denied the company’s permit request to build 57 of them.

The legislation also appropriates $150,000 to hire a company through the standard bidding process to draw maps showing areas of potential conflict between wind farms and military training exercises. (One could jest that given the legislature’s history with maps, there could be unease about the results.)

The shortened moratorium is an acquiescence to to Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat from Northampton County whose district includes prime real estate for wind farms. During the original Senate floor debate, she argued that the four-year moratorium jeopardized a $1 billion investment in one of the poorest areas of the state. Any moratorium should be no more than two years, she said. She got 18 months.