Commentary

The “pave paradise” crowd strikes again, unveils another bill to decimate environmental rules

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.”

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