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Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

A few of the worst last-minute proposals advanced during last night’s kangaroo sessions of the North Carolina House and Senate failed, mercifully, to win final approval prior to the 4:00 a.m. final adjournment. That said, lawmakers still shipped a bevy of dreadful and destructive bills down the street to the Governor’s Mansion.

One of the most troubling was/is the aptly nicknamed “Polluter Protection Act.” Though some of the bill’s rougher edges were smoothed slightly in the session’s final hours, the proposal still goes to Governor McCrory with its horrific centerpiece intact — a provision that would allow permit-holders who violate environmental limits to be excused from civil penalties for their offenses, if they “self-report” the violations.

Environmental advocates are demanding that the Governor veto this monstrosity. The good people at the Environmental Defense Fund put it this way in a statement this morning:

“The N.C. General Assembly has given final approval to House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. If the legislation becomes law, it will allow more air and water pollution, degrade land, harm wildlife and put public health at risk.

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.”

Meanwhile, Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters was even more succinct when he said the bill could be “the worst environmental bill of Gov. McCrory’s tenure.”

For a summary of the lowlights and the action that environmental advocates are taking to secure a veto click here.

For a thorough list of the bill’s grisly details click here.

Commentary
Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

The biggest scandal right now in the world of industry involves the giant German manufacturer Volkswagen, which has now admitted to installing software in its vehicles to provide false emission tests results. As the New York Times reports this morning, one of the factors that led to this scandal was the regulatory structure that allows car manufacturers to do their own emission tests or to select the companies with which they will contract to perform them.

In other words, with self-policing for environmental pollution you inevitably get…wait for it…cheating. The drive for profits often makes the temptation to cook the books is too great.

This brings us to one of the centerpieces of the so-called “regulatory reform” legislation (aka the “Polluter Protection Act”) that’s currently awaiting final action in the General Assembly as lawmakers move toward adjournment next week. As was explained earlier this week by the good people at the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, the proposed law would enact a regulatory framework that is even weaker than the one that gave rise to the VW scandal. This is from the League’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

“The big environmental fight surely looming over the remainder of this legislative year deals with HB 765, now better known as the Polluter Protection Act.

Why is that? In brief, imagine this: A corporate polluter – one of those occasional bad actors whose irresponsible behavior undercuts the efforts of the more ethical majority of businesses – has been carelessly dumping unpermitted pollution into your local river. It realizes that it is finally about to be caught, either by concerned citizens or one of the overworked remaining state environmental enforcement staff. It quickly runs a ‘self-audit’ and confesses to its regrettable “mistake” of dumping excess pollution into the river feeding the local water supply. Hey, presto! Said corporate polluter gets immunity and is let off the hook from fines and penalties on the basis of its promise to do better from now on.

This isn’t satire; that kind of provision is actually contained in the Polluter Protection Act.

In other words, under the proposed new model for North Carolina, a polluter could be as guilty as Volkswagen and then, upon being discovered, simply self-report its behavior as a “mistake” and avoid any liability.

Of course, for every polluter who finally realizes they’re about to get caught and self-reports, there will undoubtedly be many more who will go their merry way, degrading our environment without any consequences at all. Others, like VW, will get away with murder for many years and never even face the kind of consequences that awaits the giant car maker.

The bottom line: The self-policing provision of the “regulatory reform” bill makes a mockery of our environmental protection laws and citizens will be the ones who will pay the price.

 

Commentary

Not that the powers that be in Raleigh appear terribly concerned about what the majority of people living along the North Carolina coast think, but another coastal community has spoken up loudly and clearly against Governor Pat McCrory’s wrongheaded decision to proceed with offshore oil exploration. This is from the lead article in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Thunderous applause followed a Wilmington City Council decision Tuesday to oppose oil drilling off the North Carolina coast.

Attendees against offshore drilling — some waving “Don’t drill N.C.” signs — filled seats, lined the walls and overflowed into an upstairs area at the council chambers Tuesday evening. The crowd was so large that about 100 people had to wait outside the meeting after the room hit capacity.

The resolution approved unanimously by the council, presented by councilman Charlie Rivenbark, opposes both offshore drilling and seismic testing to find oil and natural gas….

According to [the environmental group] Oceana, 15 North Carolina municipalities — including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Topsail Beach — have passed resolutions voicing concerns about seismic testing or offshore drilling.”

Meanwhile, the good people at the North Carolina Coastal Federation, who have spoken out loudly and clearly about the huge dangers of offshore drilling will be hosting another forum on the subject in New Bern next Friday. This from the online description:

“What does the North Carolina coast look like today – economically, environmentally and socially? How could this change with the introduction of the oil and gas industry? This forum is intended to delve into the economic truths, environmental implications, and actual effects on coastal communities. Speakers include researchers, regulators, elected officials and coastal residents, from the Gulf of Mexico to Currituck Sound.”

Click here to learn more and register. The deadline is this Friday the 24th.

And if you’d like to get the full scoop on the move to turn the North Carolina coast into a version of Louisiana’s from the comfort of your own computer, click here to watch a presentation from earlier this year by Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law center at an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon.

Commentary

In case you missed it, an editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer rightfully blasted the state Senate’s latest outrageous effort to gut state environmental regulations:

Some cynics are calling it the “Off-The-Wall Act of 2015.” Others suggest a better title might be the “Polluter Protection Act.”

In both cases they’re right. And what happened to House Bill 765 last weekend is a textbook chapter in how North Carolina lawmakers regularly commit outrages under cover of darkness.

Please note that we are not making a partisan statement here. For years, Democrats sparked Republican howls when they slipped through Trojan horse legislation that completely changed the purpose and effect of a bill. The howling traded sides when Republicans took over the General Assembly and quickly adopted time-tested Democratic dirty tricks.

House Bill 765 was, until recently, a one-page bill regulating the transportation of gravel. Last weekend, in the Senate, it became a 54-page epic that deregulated everything from profanity on public highways to the minimum age for operating all-terrain vehicles.

The bill is particularly pernicious in giving a greener light to polluters. It unprotects some wetlands, weakens stormwater regulations, removes air-quality monitors across the state and eliminates a requirement for recycling computers and televisions.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

steamroller1The hits (and slashes and burns) to North Carolina’s ever-more-fragile natural environment just keep on a comin’ at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Yesterday morning, while few people were watching, a Senate Committee unveiled and quickly approved yet another new proposal to lay waste to environmental rules (and a lot more of the state’s land and water that they helped protect). The good folks at the state chapter of the Sierra Club provided the following helpful and disheartening summary:

“From Mowing Lawns to Mowing Down Buffers?

An innocuous House measure dealing with local government authority to address overgrown vegetation was reconstituted on Wednesday morning into yet another omnibus regulatory reform bill.

House Bill 44 (Cities/Overgrown Vegetation Notice) was renamed “Local Government Regulatory Reform” in Wednesday’s Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. The new version of the bill was then adopted which, among other provisions, would allow large portions of the middle and lower Neuse River watershed as well as the Tar-Pamlico River watershed to be exempted from the state’s vegetated buffer requirements that protect water quality for nutrient-sensitive waters.

The Neuse and the Tar-Pamlico are two of North Carolina’s largest watersheds. The provision (Section 13) would effectively exempt most properties in the affected areas, allowing much larger loads of pollution to enter the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico estuaries. [Note: An amendment offered by Sen. John Alexander (R-Wake County) that was adopted by the committee takes the upper Neuse River basin out of the bill, thereby protecting Falls Lake from the proposals in this bill.]

Another buffer provision (Section 14) in the newly repackaged bill would also severely reduce the size and efficacy of coastal wetlands buffers which are so important for protecting our estuaries and seafood industry.

North Carolina adopted a system of vegetated buffers to protect water quality following the events of the mid 1990’s, when massive fish kills occurred on the Neuse due to agricultural runoff depleting the oxygen in the waters.

Some of the buffer provisions in the new H 44 mirror provisions in H 760, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, which has been awaiting action in the Senate since the first week of May.

Another provision in the bill (Section 7) would make it significantly harder for local communities to create bike lanes by requiring a majority vote of the NC Board of Transportation for what is now a local government decision. .

H 44 has no other committee stops in the Senate and is calendared to be on the Senate floor later today. If passed, it would return to the House for concurrence.”