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Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:

NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.

SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.

Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.

The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.

H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.

After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.

“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”

“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

And this is from EDF:

North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems

(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.

“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.

“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.

“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”

Commentary

This Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly — a self-imposed deadline used by lawmakers to weed out some of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced so far this year. Without going into the details, it’s enough to note that the crossover deadline will make for a busy week of sausage grinding on Jones Street. Lots and lots of bills — many of them destructive and counter-productive — will receive only a few minutes’ consideration before being sent long their merry way.

Two destructive environmental policy bills are near the top of the list as the fun gets underway this afternoon in the House.

At 1:00 p.m., the House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.” Here’s what the good folk at the Sierra Club have to say about this proposal:

“In the late 1990’s after public outcry, about massive fish kills in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, the State developed cost effective and comprehensive strategies to reduce water pollution from all sources.

[The Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] would greatly expand exemptions to North Carolina’s riparian buffer requirements and reduce local control.

Buffers are the most cost effective mechanism that we have to protect water quality in streams and rivers. Since federal and state water quality standards still have to be met, reducing buffers serves only to increase the costs to farmers and local governments.”

A new version of the bill would also allow giant hog farm populations to grow.

Meanwhile, later on this evening, the full House will consider a widely criticized proposal to gut the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). As Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported the other day: Read More

Commentary

The good folks at Environment North Carolina and Environment America are out with a new report that flags one of North Carolina’s biggest industrial polluters for polluting our national policy debate as well. This is from the release that accompanied the report:

New Report Links Smithfield River Pollution to Political Spending

Raleigh, NC – The owner of Smithfield Foods spent $1.4 million on lobbying in a single year, according to a new report by Environment North Carolina The enormous spending came after Smithfield Packaging dumped over 2.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into North Carolina’s waterways in 2012.

“Spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions shouldn’t give polluters a free pass to dump toxins into our waterways,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Associate. “We need to do more to ensure that the streams that flow into places like Jordan Lake and the Deep River are protected.”

Environment North Carolina’s report links discharges of toxic chemicals as reported in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012 with federally reported campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for 2014.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Smithfield Foods dumped 2,339,770 pounds of toxic pollution into North Carolina’s waterways.
  • Smithfield Packaging Company spent $1.4 million dollars on lobbying and $204,006 on 2014 campaign cycle.

Right now, polluters are lobbying their allies on Capitol Hill to derail EPA’s plan to restore Clean Water Act protections to 135,907 miles of streams in North Carolina. Loopholes in the law currently leave the waterways that feed the drinking water for 4.7 million North Carolinians at risk.

The report goes on to explain the horrific impact of water pollution like Smithfield’s (both on our natural environment and surrounding businesses). Click here to read more and learn about corporate lobbying to block clean-up efforts by the federal EPA.

Commentary
Ozone EPA

Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Good government can do a lot of to things to improve the quality of life for its citizens, but when you get down to it, making people healthier and safer is pretty much at or close to the top of any reasonable person’s list. That’s why the Affordable Care Act was and is, ultimately, for all its imperfections and corporate giveaways, a success. At the end of the day, more people will be alive, healthier and happier because of the ACA.

Happily, the same is also true of another important Obama administration initiative announced today: new rules to curb ozone pollution. As Newsweek.com reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday its proposal for a long-delayed regulation to curb ozone pollution, a human health hazard linked to asthma, heart disease, premature death, and an array of pregnancy complications. Read More

Commentary

060810_1509_Environment1.jpgThe good people at Environment North Carolina and their national allies released a powerful new report today that’s worth your time to check out. It’s called “Waterways Restored: The Clean Water Act’s Impact on 15 American Rivers, Lakes and Bays” and it does at least two extremely important things:

1)  It demonstrates the amazing success of a vitally important environmental protection law — the Clean Water Act, and

2) It makes the case for saving that law from the relentless attacks of corporate polluters and restoring it to its original intent of making all American waters safe for fishing and and swimming.

As the report explains, the Clean Water Act has, over the last 42 years, made enormous strides in cleaning up and preserving our nation’s waters. The report highlights 15 of these success stories, including North Carolina’s North Fork First Broad River, which has, thanks to the CWA, been been preserved as a pristine fishing venue and home to numerous endangered species. Other, more urban waterways like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and Boston Harbor have been brought back from the dead to become thriving and healthy sites as a result of the law.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, major polluters continue to fight the law at every turn. Several years ago, they secured a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that created some giant loopholes in the law and essentially excluded a huge number of the nation’s streams and waterways from protection. As a result, 56% of North Carolina’s rivers and streams are no longer protected by the law as they should be.

To correct this glaring gap in the law, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA have proposed new rules to clarify that thousands of rivers and streams now excluded will be included in the law’s protections. The new report calls on these agencies to go ahead and finalize these new rules as quickly as possible.

Click here to read the report. The discussion of the North Fork First Broad River can be found on pages 25 and 26.