Environment

BREAKING: Concerned about methyl bromide, DEQ puts log fumigation permits on hold

David Smith of Malec Brothers was pummeled with angry questions from community members at a public hearing in Delco in May. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality today is recommending that the state regulate emissions of methyl bromide, a chemical used in log fumigation. As a result, DEQ has put on hold four pending air permit applications.

These include one from the Australian company, Malec Brothers, which requested to emit up to 140 tons of methyl bromide near the small communities of Delco and Riegelwood; and another by Royal Pest Solution, which proposed emitting a smaller amount, under 10 tons, in Scotland Neck, in Halifax County.The two others are Pinnacle World Trade in Williamston, in Martin County, and Renewable Green Inc. in South Mills, in Camden County.

DAQ has notified the five facilities that are operating that it will modify their permits after 60 days, the timeframe required by law. These are RLS Log Facility in Elizabethtown in Bladen County; Royal Pest Solutions in Chadbourn, in Columbus County; Royal Pest, which has two locations in Wilmington; and Flowers Timber in Seven Springs, in Wayne County.

“After additional review, we concluded a multi-faceted approach was vital to safeguard the public health and address the significant community concerns about these facilities,” said Mike Abraczinskas, Division of Air Quality director, in a prepared statement. “As more businesses seek to use methyl bromide at log fumigation sites in our state, the lack of specific federal or state regulatory measures for the use of this hazarous air pollutant creates a potential public health risk we must address.”

There is no federal guidance on methyl bromide emissions — which not only can harm human health, but also deplete the ozone layer — so DEQ is asking the Environmental Management Commission to develop a rule to require log fumigation operations to take appropriate measures to safeguard public health.

The Division of Air Quality will also ask the Secretaries’ Scientific Advisory Board to consider establishing an acceptable ambient level for methyl bromide and to designate it as a state Toxic Air Pollutant. These types of pollutants are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects, according to the EPA. They are more rigorously regulated.

Meanwhile, the Division of Air Quality intends to require permit holders to capture and control a minimum of 90 percent of methyl bromide emissions. DAQ’s research shows feasible capture and control technologies exist and should be included in all permit applications.

“After additional review, we concluded a multi-faceted approach was vital to safeguard the public health and address the significant community concerns about these facilities,” Abraczinskas said.

The Malec Brothers application drew significant outcry from Columbus County residents. The fumigation operation would have been just a mile from a school and would have been the state’s largest emitter of methyl bromide.

Royal Pest Solutions, which had proposed a smaller facility in Scotland Neck, had been penalized several times in Virginia for failing to adhere to environmental and safety regulations.

After public protests, Royal Pest withdrew its application for an operation in Wilmington.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

FERC approves construction to begin in NC on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; status of $57.8 million fund still uncertain

The segments in red indicate where construction on the pipeline is to begin this year; construction is scheduled for 2019 along the segment in blue. (Map: Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is allowing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to begin in North Carolina, according to a notice issued late yesterday.

But it’s unclear what this final approval means for the $57.8 million escrow fund agreed to by Gov. Roy Cooper and Dominion Energy and Duke Energy.

Construction had already begun on the compressor station near Pleasant Hill in Northampton County, as well as an office building and a metering and regulation station . The FERC notice now allows ACP, LLC, which is co-owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, to start major excavation along most of the route.

Construction has been occurring in West Virginia for several months; however FERC has yet to give final approval for it to begin in Virginia.

FERC’s approval would have also triggered the launch of a $57.8 million escrow account, under a controversial Memorandum of Understanding between Gov. Cooper and Dominion Energy, signed on Jan. 25. Under that voluntary agreement, Dominion and Duke were to deposit half that amount –$29 million — into the account upon receiving FERC’s final notice to proceed.

That money was to be used for environmental mitigation — even though those measures had been requirement in state environmental permits — renewable energy, and to enhance economic development in communities along the route. One of ACP, LLC’s  main talking points was that the pipeline itself would spark economic development. But many critics of the project noted that it would cost millions of dollars for industry to connect to the pipeline. This money would have presumably helped with those connection fees, although it’s unclear how and who would determine the recipients of the funds.

But the legislature passed a law earlier this year to negate the agreement. Instead, the money would go to school districts in counties along the route. However, since the MOU was voluntary and between the utilities and the governor, the new law jeopardized the fund. Duke Energy spokeswoman Tammie McGee said that details on the utilities’ disbursements are not yet fleshed out.

 

Environment

Trump Administration wants to roll back Endangered Species Act; many NC animals, fish, plants could become extinct

The endangered butterfly, Saint Francis’ satyr, lives in the Sandhill region of North Carolina (Photo: USFWS)

Saint Francis’ satyr, a delicate, small butterfly with a wingspan of just an inch and a half, lives in secret. Only one community of the endangered butterfly is known to exist in Cumberland and Hoke counties, where development and other human interventions have rendered it nearly extinct. It lives in an undisclosed location known only to researchers, federal wildlife officials say, to prevent poachers from wiping it out altogether.

The butterflies’ survival could become even more precarious if Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump administration succeed in rolling back key portions of the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock of environmental law.

Whether a pipeline project or a road, extra steps to comply with the ESA are more expensive. Industries have long complained about the additional costs and prohibitions required to comply with the act. Now that they have the sympathetic ear of Secretary Zinke, industries are getting the leniency they’ve asked for.

The proposed changes include weakening protections for threatened species — those ranked right below endangered — and allowing the government to weigh the cost to industry in determining whether a species should be saved. It also would be more difficult to add species to the endangered list.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 42 species are endangered in North Carolina and 19 are threatened. These include, plants, mammals, fish, mussels, birds, insects, spiders, reptiles and amphibians.

Even under current law, a species’ survival is not guaranteed. For example, only 40 or so endangered red wolves remain in six counties in northeastern North Carolina — the only known wild population in the world. And yet, USFWS wants to further shrink the wolves’ habitat, in part caving to demands from area landowners who complain the animals encroach on their property.

The: Southern Environmental Law Center has sued USFWS over its plan to moving the remaining animals to federal lands in Dare County, an area that cannot support more than 15 wolves. Some would be captured and placed in zoos and nature centers, such as the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. Others would be allowed to die.

The administration’s proposed changes to the ESA also could strip the Neuse River waterdog, a salamander lives along the route of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, of future protections. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission designated the waterdog as a species of concern in 1990, and it is a candidate for the federal list. It can’t be captured or killed without a permit.

That rule forced Dominion Power and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, to alter their construction plans in the Neuse and Tar river basins. They had proposed an “open-trench” method of crossing the Neuse River, which would have entailed stripping the stream banks of topsoil and trees, then excavating part of the riverbed to install the pipe. That extensive disruption likely would have killed some of the salamanders. (The ACP’s solution was to try to capture them and reintroduce them into their habitat later.)

Now ACP contractors are required to use a less invasive construction method. Although it won’t guarantee no riverdogs would be killed, it would lessen the chances.

The Complete 540 project, a proposed toll road in southern Wake County, would threaten the lives and habitats of the Atlantic sturgeon and the dwarf wedgemussel, both endangered, and the threatened yellow lance mussel. Last week, the SELC notified federal and state wildlife and transportation officials that it intends to sue them over violations of the act; these include the proposal to issue “incidental take permits” — legally killing a certain number of species — that could wipe out the mussels in North Carolina.

The proposed changes will be published on July 25 in the Federal Register for public comment. Comments must be received by Sept. 24.

 

 

Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Environment

Residents living near Chemours Fayetteville Works plant invited to participate in state GenX health study

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bladen and Cumberland county health departments plan to test the blood and urine of up to 30 residents living near Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility for the presence of GenX and 16 other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

Health officials will begin calling selected residents near the Fayetteville Works facility this week to invite them to participate, and residents with private wells that had the highest detections of GenX during the sampling will be contacted first.

At least 225 private drinking water wells in neighborhoods near the plant have tested above the state’s provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion for GenX. Other fluorinated compounds previously have been discharged and emitted from the Chemours plant, and are  present in the environment.

The purpose of the testing is to determine if PFAS can be detected in blood or urine from area residents, and if so, how their levels compare to levels detected from other parts of the country. Human health effects associated with PFAS exposure are not well understood, although there is some indication they may be linked to thyroid disease, high cholesterol and some cancers.

Participation is limited to no more than 30 people based on CDC testing capacity. Each household will be limited to one adult participant and one child participant (12-17 years old). Individual results will be shared with participants, and summary results will be shared with the public without participants’ private information.

“This is an important next step in understanding GenX and other PFAS exposure in humans,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore, in a press statement. “However, this testing cannot tell us whether GenX or other PFAS are associated with any specific health effects.”

Samples will be sent to the CDC in Atlanta for testing. Because some PFAS are expected to be easier to detect in blood, NC DHHS said, and others are expected to be easier to detect in urine, samples will be tested differently:
Urine samples will be tested for GenX and seven other PFAS.
Blood samples will be tested for nine PFAS, and may be tested for GenX if it is detected in urine samples.

Another similar study is being conducted by NC State University’s Center for Human Health and the Environment; that group of scientists is studying the blood and urine of nearly 200 people in New Hanover County, where GenX was initially detected in the drinking water.