Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, public health

“People of NC require your protection”: Gov. Cooper urges EPA to quickly set a safety standard for GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper: Asking the EPA for multiple health studies about GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today seeking “urgent action to get us answers and solutions” about the health risks of GenX in drinking water. “We need the EPA to move more quickly to finalize its health assessment of GenX and set a maximum contaminant level for it,” Cooper wrote.

GenX is a byproduct of the manufacture of Teflon and non-stick surfaces. Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, has discharged GenX into the Lower Cape Fear River for decades, but only within the last 18 months have scientists from the EPA and NC State University discovered the chemical in the water. Since then, GenX has been detected at high levels in the drinking water leaving the public utility plants — no traditional treatment method removes it — although the amounts have decreased over the past three weeks since Chemours stopped discharging it into the river. Residents in parts of Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties, including the City of Wilmington, presumably have been drinking GenX-contaminated water.

An emerging contaminant, it is not regulated, and thus the EPA has not set a health standard for it. However, last week the state health department set a health goal for GenX of no more than 140 parts per trillion — a drastic reduction from the original 70,000 ppt DHHS had proposed.

The EPA, DuPont and Chemours already agreed to a 2009 consent order requiring the companies to reduce the amount of C8, a chemically similar precursor to GenX, in drinking water of residents living near the Washington Works facility in Parkersburg, W.V. However, as Cooper wrote, Chemours has stated that it believes the order doesn’t apply to the Fayetteville plant. “I ask that the EPA revisit this consent order immediately and modify it to apply to any and all release of GenX.”

 

7-17 Letter to Epa_0 by LisaSorg on Scribd

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Hold your sprayers: Gov. Cooper puts the kibosh on leachate bill

Leachate won’t start spewing garbage juice for at least another month now that Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed House Bill 576. The measure would require state environmental officials to permit an untested technology that sprays leachate from landfills into the air. The theory is the larger, harmful contaminated particles will drop to the surface of the landfill, leaving smaller particles to float away. However, scientific studies on other types of waste sprays show that viruses, bacteria and other small contaminants can travel for miles, depending on the wind, topography and humidity.

“Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “With use of the word ‘shall,’ the legislature mandates a technology winner, limiting future advancements that may provide better protection.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County, the bill was controversial from the get-go. Environmental advocates and many Democrats opposed the bill because of safety concerns. Dixon repeatedly said the technology was safe, but offered no pertinent data or proof.

The leachate spraying system was invented by Kelly Houston of Cornelius. Last year, he contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Trudy Wade when the bill language was being inserted into an omnibus measure. That provision failed in the waning days of the 2016 short session.

This year, Wade carried water for the bill on the Senate side, which passed it 29-14. The House also passed it 75-45. Lawmakers could vote on an override, which requires a three-fifths majority, when the first special session convenes Aug. 3.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

DEQ budget still meager, cuts 16.75 jobs, but includes money for pet projects

“Reorganization Through Reduction”: George Orwell couldn’t have said it better.

The spirit of George Orwell must have been hovering over House and Senate conferees when they drafted the state environmental budget. “Reorganization through Reduction” is the very gentle term budget writers used to tell NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan to do a very dirty job: Find $1.9 million in savings over two years — somewhere.

Lay off employees, scale back programs, use fewer paper clips, whatever it takes.

At $77 million in the first fiscal year, the DEQ conference budget, unveiled yesterday at 11:10 p.m. by the House and Senate conference committee, is more generous than the Senate version — a low bar, indeed. It is stingier than the House‘s and it falls far short of the $84.8 million appropriation that Gov. Roy Cooper had recommended.

The second fiscal year is even leaner for DEQ, just $76.8 million, after the Reorganization program concludes.

“The budget cuts core functions beyond the bone,” said Grady McCallie, policy director for the NC Conservation Network. “And it will leave our rivers, lakes and drinking water sources exposed to more pollution while threatening the ability of DEQ to adequately inform the public about environmental health risks.”

The DEQ budget also contains a policy report, which also places further fiscal limitations on the agency.  This document includes restrictions on the allocation of Volkswagen Settlement Funds. North Carolina is due $87 million — certainly not chump change — from a federal lawsuit against the car maker because it cheating on its diesel emissions tests. The state can use the money on projects that will reduce air emissions from cars, trucks and trains. But the conference budget requires the General Assembly, not DEQ or the Department of Transportation, to approve distribution of those funds. Lawmakers, undoubtedly, will want some of that money spent directly in their districts on pet projects.

Speaking of pet projects, the budget’s big winners: SePro, the chemical company whose powerful lobbyist Harold Brubaker has convinced lawmakers to spend $1.3 million on a sketchy algae-killing treatment for Jordan Lake. The City of Havelock,  inexplicably jumps to the front of a very long line of needy projects and receives $1 million to “repurpose” the old Phoenix recycling site.

The budget’s semi-winners: Oysters, which will receive $1 million in recurring funds for necessary sanctuaries. Twenty-nine DEQ employees, including Chief Deputy Col. John Nicholson, whose jobs were saved from the Senate guillotine. NC A&T and Appalachian State universities, who can keep $200,000 each for energy research. (Check back on Thursday for a larger story about rearrangements to the state energy office and general provisions to the energy portion of the budget.)

The budget’s losers — and this is just the short list: NC State University’s energy program, whose funding was eliminated. The myriad other ways DEQ touches North Carolinians lives: fortifying coastal communities’ response to climate change, consistently monitoring water quality in the sounds, protecting people — usually low-income and minority neighborhoods — from contamination in old landfills. And the 16-plus DEQ employees, including seven in the vital regional offices, where much of the permitting takes place. They will have to pack their desks if the cuts survive the full House and Senate votes. Not to worry, lawmakers say, it’s only a reorganization.

Governor Roy Cooper, HB2, News

New Elon Poll on Cooper approval, HB2, medical marijuana

The latest Elon University Poll results give a look at North Carolinians’ views on Gov. Roy Cooper, the General Assembly, the effect of HB2 on the state’s reputation and the question of legalizing marijuana.

The live-caller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 506 likely voters was conducted from April 18-21. The latest released results feature responses from registered voters classified as likely voters in the Nov. 8 election and has a margin of error of +/- 4.36 percentage points.

The poll found that nearly half of respondents approve of the job Roy Cooper is doing as governor.

“Governor Cooper is clearly enjoying a honeymoon period of public support in North Carolina,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll, in a release Tuesday. “That he is 19 points net positive in an otherwise divided state gives him some leeway to use soft power even as the legal powers of the office have recently declined.”

“Governor McCrory had positive approval numbers very similar to Governor Cooper’s when the Elon Poll first asked about McCrory’s job performance in April 2013,” Husser said. “Governors have a tendency to become less popular over time. However, Cooper is currently in a strong position to craft a solid foundation of support in North Carolina.”

Of course, Cooper’s approval is split by party.

Seventy percent of Democrats said they approve the job he is doing while just 24 percent of Republicans said they approve. Half of independent voters – a large and growing group of voters in North Carolina – said they approve of Cooper’s performance.

The North Carolina General Assembly did not fair as well in the poll. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they disapprove of the job the General Assembly is doing. While Democrats and black voters were the most likely to disapprove of the legislature, it’s worth noting that the poll found 38 percent of Republicans also disapprove of the job the GOP dominated legislature is doing.

In a related question, the poll asked respondents about HB2’s impact on the state’s national reputation. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they believe it has made North Carolina’s reputation worse.

There were also some interesting responses on marijuana legalization. Eighty percent of respondents said they would support legalizing marijuana for medical use while 45 percent said they would support its legalization for recreational use.

For more information from the poll – including questions on concealed carry gun permits and environmental questions – see the full poll, including more information on methodology.

Courts & the Law, Governor Roy Cooper, HB2, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Another look at Cooper’s doggedly impressive start

As the national pundits weigh in on President Trump’s first 100 days in office and the General Assembly careens toward its self-imposed crossover deadline for legislation, it’s worth considering how Governor Roy Cooper has fared in his first 100+ days on the job.

He reached that threshold a couple of weeks ago with little fanfare. There were a few news reports and an interview or two, but most of the political world was still assessing the fallout from the partial repeal of HB2 and monitoring the latest efforts by the General Assembly to take powers away from Cooper that previous governors have held.

The 100-day threshold also felt less noteworthy because of the way Cooper’s term began and what happened before he took the oath of office. [Read more...]

2. A flood of bad ideas
How the General Assembly is spending “crossover week” and what it ought to be doing

The last week of April arrived soggy and gray yesterday in North Carolina. It’s as if the weather gods had taken a sneak peek at the agenda for one of the busiest weeks of the year at the General Assembly and were shedding a steady stream of preemptory tears.

Yes, this is “crossover week” in Raleigh – one of those strange and obscure “inside the Legislative Building” phenomena that are, at once, difficult to fathom and highly impactful on the lives of millions of everyday North Carolinians.

Every other year, state lawmakers self-impose something known as the “crossover deadline.” The basic and not utterly unreasonable rule is that unless a bill is approved by at least one legislative body (either the Senate or the House of Representatives) by the end of this legislative week, it will be ineligible to become law this year. The idea behind “crossover,” of course, is that it provides a culling mechanism that can help a part-time legislature manage the deluge of bills (there have been 1,448 introduced so far in 2017) it needs to wade through. [Read more…]

3. Controversial charter growth bill sails through the state House

Despite criticism from the Republican chair of the State Board of Education, members of the state House of Representatives voted Thursday to clear speedy expansion for some North Carolina charters.

Under House Bill 779, charters would be able to boost their enrollment by up to 30 percent without seeking state approval, provided they have not been identified as low-performing.

The version that emerged on the House floor Thursday night included several modifications from the GOP-led bill, which had called for any charter, regardless of academic performance, to have clearance for expanding enrollment by up to 40 percent. [Read more…]

***Bonus stories from Crossover Week:

4. Republican judge on protesting bill reducing Court of Appeals: ‘There weren’t any other options’

On Monday morning, there was only one way left to save the Court of Appeals and a few hours with which to do it.

Just two days earlier, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 239, which would reduce the state’s appellate court from 15 judges to 12. It was expected that the Republican-led General Assembly would override that veto as soon as they could, despite a lot of opposition from both sides of the aisle.

“Every argument had been produced to no avail; statistics were provided to [legislators] by a judge from our court; … four chief justices told them this is a bad move, that this is going to hurt the courts, that this was ill-advised; our court had told them that,” said former Judge Douglas McCullough. “There was only one way left. There weren’t any other options.” [Read more…]

5. Investment firm CEO: Partial HB2 repeal was not enough

The political compromise that repealed HB2 was enough for the NCAA and ACC, both of which have returned sporting events to North Carolina.

But is disappointment with the compromise and a flurry of new anti-LGBT proposals from the General Assembly continuing to hurt the state’s reputation? And can it recover?

“I would say it’s definitely not all over with the repeal,” said Matthew Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management.

With more than $2 billion under management, Trillium has offices in Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Durham. They were part of a group of investing firms handling more than $2 trillion that warned against the economic impact of HB2 in September of last year. [Read more…]