Last week, the NC General Assembly welcomed in 2017’s hurricane season with a woefully inadequate budget proposal for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief funding. At only $150 million slated for hurricane recovery with $930 million of unmet need, the NCGA misses an opportunity to address long-term environmental and community resiliency.
Last October, in the wake of the hurricane, the Neuse River reached an historic peak of 29.74 feet, wreaking havoc on the region’s waterways and displacing thousands of people, destroying homes and entire communities, and exacerbating existing environmental justice issues in the region. The flooding contaminated the Neuse, Cape Fear, and Lumber River watersheds from various industrial polluters – including 14 swine waste lagoons, human waste from wastewater treatment facilities, and coal ash from a dam breach at the H.F. Lee plant near Goldsboro. Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr notes that communities are likely also facing contamination from poultry facilities, but because the Department of Environmental Quality does not require them to be permitted, they have no record of where these facilities are and therefore cannot do the appropriate testing.
Climate change will make problems worse
In a region that is already hurting from decades of environmental injustices – enduring the worst of industrial swine and poultry operations and coal burning power plants – displacement and disruption from this kind of natural disaster only worsens conditions for the families who have historically been industry dumping ground.
Unfortunately, climate change will only make the problem worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that this year’s hurricane season will be a busy one – with an above-average number of storms expected in the Atlantic. Climate change creates conditions for continuous rainfall and flooding, not just major storms, which also pose a threat for frontline communities. Flood plain management in eastern North Carolina will be critical for its ability to weather future natural disasters. The state must move agricultural and municipal wastewater facilities out of the 100-year floodplains to avoid future flooding-induced contamination, and we must rebuild the outdated water and sewer infrastructure to protect the health and safety thousands of families. With last week’s announcement from the Trump Administration that the U.S. will exit the Paris Climate Agreement, it is unlikely that we will see action quick enough to curb the worst effects of a quickly changing climate.
We need leadership
The NCGA must take the long view in rebuilding eastern NC. NC leaders continue to ignore the scale of the problem, continue to leave thousands of children and families behind. How much longer will our elected leaders insist on a Band-Aid to stop a gaping wound?