Environment

EPA hosting key community forum on GenX, PFAS, PFOS in Fayetteville today; public can comment from 3 to 8 p.m.

Policy Watch will live tweet the highlights of the daylong event @ncpolicywatch and @lisasorg .

Seven top EPA officials. Three division directors from the Department of Environmental Quality, plus Secretary Michael Regan. Even one of the top brass from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the major regulators and community watchdogs in the GenX drinking water crisis will speak at today’s public forum about perfluorinated compounds, but Chemours, the company responsible for the widespread contamination, will be conspicuous by its absence.

Hosted by the EPA, the public event begins at 10 a.m. at the Crown Ballroom, 1960 Coliseum Drive, in Fayetteville. It includes panels devoted to science, local issues and the community. A listening session for the public to provide input runs from 3 to 8 p.m.

State environmental officials had asked the EPA to hold two additional forums, one in Wilmington and the other in Greensboro, where emerging contaminants have also been detected in the water. The EPA declined, state officials said, because it lacked the time and resources.

Nonetheless, this is the first and only opportunity for North Carolinians to hear from, and speak directly to, the federal agency ultimately charged with regulating the more than 15 perfluorinated compounds, including PFAS, PFOS and GenX.

GenX has been detected in the Cape Fear River basin from Cumberland to Brunswick counties, including in river, its sediment, plus groundwater, drinking water, honey and the air. PFAS and PFOS have been founded throughout North Carolina, including Jordan Lake and Lake Michie. In the case of Jordan Lake, the contamination could be coming from the Haw River, already a problematic waterway. It is believed that Lake Michie is receiving the contaminants through the air; there are no wastewater treatment plants, industrial discharges or even sludge applications discharging into the lake.

The forum and public comments could help inform the EPA’s next steps, some of which could be finished yet this year. The EPA is scheduled to develop human health toxicity levels for GenX and recommending groundwater cleanup standards. PFOS and PFAS have been linked to high cholesterol, decreased immune response, thyroid disorders, cancer and high blood pressure in pregnant women. The EPA has set a drinking water health advisory — which is not legally enforceable — of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFAS, either individually or combined.

The health effects of GenX are less clear, because there is a lack of independent, peer-reviewed data. However, North Carolina has set a health advisory goal of 140 parts per trillion. The state’s Science Advisory Board has been investigating the science behind that goal and is scheduled to recommend any changes some time this year.

Two health studies on these compounds are ongoing: Researchers Jane Hoppin, Nadine Kotlarz and Detlef Knappe of NC State, are analyzing blood and urine of about 300 volunteers in the Wilmington area. The state Department of Health and Human Services and CDC are conducting a smaller study of 30 people who live near the Chemours plant.

Meanwhile, the NC Policy Collaboratory received $5 million in this year’s state budget to conduct research on these compounds. Over the next year, more than 20 researchers, led by UNC professor Jason Surratt, will sample public water sources statewide. This will enable state regulators to know the current levels of contamination and begin monitoring for changes in those concentration.

The researchers also plan to examine how air emissions can contaminate groundwater, use modeling to predict vulnerable drinking water wells and test treatment systems that could remove the compounds.

The study will be overseen by an advisory committee of faculty members from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington, Duke University, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. Detlef Knappe, professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at NC State University, and Lee Ferguson, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University, are the co-chairs of the committee.

Environment

A first for NC, DEQ wants new rules on methyl bromide emissions — and they’re stronger than sandbags and duct tape

After receiving more than 3,000 comments about proposed log fumigation facilities in eastern North Carolina, state officials are asking the Environmental Management Commission to pass new rules on emissions of methyl bromide, the toxic chemical used in that process.

If the EMC agrees, the rules would be the first in North Carolina to specifically regulate methyl bromide. There are no federal or state air quality regulations to protect the public from methyl bromide emissions, according to the Division of Air Quality.

The EMC will hear the proposal at a special meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Archdale Building in Raleigh. The first portion of the meeting will be devoted to a special consent order regarding illegal seeps of coal ash contamination from Duke Energy’s Roxboro and Mayo plants in Person County.

The meeting will have an audio stream; the password is 1234.

A hazardous air pollutant, methyl bromide has been largely banned internationally because it depletes the ozone layer and can harm the nervous system in humans. However, the chemical has received a critical use exemption to treat logs and crops for import and export.

The impetus for the proposed rules has been the public outrage over two proposed log fumigation facilities:

  • Last year, Tima Capital had submitted a permit application to emit 60 tons a year from an operation near Wilmington; it withdrew the request after the Department of Environmental Quality received more than 2,000 comments.
  • And earlier this year, Malec Brothers, based in Australia, proposed an even larger operation — 100 to 140 tons of annual emissions — near the small towns of Delco and Riegelwood in Columbus County. In its permit application, the company proposed using sandbags and duct tape to control emissions leaving the fumigation containers.

DAQ received more than 1,000 comments and held two public hearings, at which residents demanded that state environmental officials strengthen rules on methyl bromide.

A third new log fumigation facility has also been proposed by Royal Pest Solutions for Halifax County, northeast of Scotland Neck.

All pending methyl bromide permits are on hold; DAQ has notified existing facilities that it plans to modify their permits.

DAQ Director Mike Abraczinskas noted in a PowerPoint presentation that unlike agricultural uses, in which methyl bromide has been used to kill pests over large farm tracts, these log fumigation operations concentrate the emissions in one spot.

The new proposed rule would establish control requirements for all hazardous and toxic air pollutants from all existing, new or modified log fumigation operations.

A draft of the proposed temporary rule will go to the EMC next month; it will be subject to public comment and a public hearing. In addition, DEQ has asked the state Science Advisory Board to evaluate inhalation risks of methyl bromide and to recommend an acceptable level of it in the air.

The temporary rule could go into effect as early as December. Next year, a permanent rule, which has its own public comment and hearing period, could become effective in July.

DEQ also is sending a letter to the EPA asking that log fumigation facilities that use methyl bromide be required to be equipped with stringent emissions controls — Maximum Achievable Control Technology.

This requirement is known as a Section 112(g) classification under the Clean Air Act; it applies to industrial sources that emit 10 or more tons of one pollutant or 25 tons or more of a combination of pollutants.

 

Environment

Disorganized, unrealistic and ready to spend tax dollars: Jim Womack wants to take Oil and Gas Commission on expensive field trip

Areas targeted for fracking: The Dan River Basin (Stokes and Rockingham counties); the Deep River Basin (11 counties in central and southern NC) and the small Davie Basin (Yadkin and Davie counties) Map: NC DEQ

Jim Womack must believe he’s playing with house money.

The chairman of the NC Oil and Gas Commission, Womack yesterday proposed several expensive outlays of taxpayer funds that have no legislative appropriations or resource commitments from other state agencies.

First, he suggested that all nine commission members travel 1,150 miles round-trip to Bradford County, Pa., for three to four days next spring to observe fracking operations and speak to residents. Why Bradford  County, which is on the border with New York state? Because Womack, told the commission, he “knows people” there and is friends with one of its Republican county commissioners.

If a majority of oil and gas members were to make the trip, it would qualify as a public meeting. Minutes would have to be taken — plus all receipts of expenses covered by tax dollars would be public record.

Womack said that several years ago Sens. Bob Rucho and Mike Hager had “called him on the carpet” for not taking the Mining and Energy Commission on a field trip to fracking operations. Womack went on his own to Pennsylvania. “You can visualize how the rules come into play,” he enthused. “It was great to go to an active site.”

Commissioner Rebecca Wyhof of Lee County said she wanted to ensure that any such trip is “not one-sided.”

The two and a half hour meeting, of which 20 percent was spent scheduling meetings into 2019, (thus consuming the time of the five environmental department employees whose job was to attend) accomplished little. Yet there were indications that Womack either has an inside track on state funding or simply doesn’t know what certain activities cost.

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agriculture, Environment

Smithfield loses its third hog nuisance case, jury awards plaintiffs $473 million in damages

A photo of inside a hog barn at Greenwood Farms. (Photo from court exhibits)

See today’s story on NC Policy Watch about yesterday’s closing arguments in this case.

A federal jury took just three hours to award six plaintiffs a total of $473 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer.

The jury, which was nearly all white and majority female, awarded each of the neighbors of Greenwood Farms in Pender County $3 million to $5 million each in compensatory damages, even more than the plaintiffs’ attorneys had suggested during yesterday’s closing arguments. The panel tacked on another $75 million in punitive damages for each plaintiff.

The actual award will be less because of a state law capping punitive damages: three times the amount of compensatory or $250,000, whichever is greater. That means even with the cap the total payout could be $94 million.

Ten plaintiffs in the first trial were awarded $50 million, later reduced, and two in the second trial won $25 million. Both amounts were reduced by US District Court Senior Judge Earl Britt.

As with the first and second trials, which Smithfield also lost, the company is expected to appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court.

 

Artis Trial — Jury Verdict — Public by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

The jury returned the verdict while US Rep. David Rouzer and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler were hosting a national roundtable about hog nuisance lawsuits with high-ranking officials from the USDA, the Farm Bureau, plus Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and many state senators and representatives. At that meeting, several officials warned that agriculture nationwide is “under attack” and that “when country people get angry, it causes war.” Rouzer said nuisance “is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.” (Look for additional coverage about the roundtable on Monday.)

At that roundtable, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican turkey farmer from Duplin County said despite its legal defeats, Smithfield will continue with the remaining 20-plus nuisance trials scheduled for the rest of the year and into 2019. “I’ve had special meetings with high-level officials from Smithfield,” Dixon said. “And they said they will not settle.”

 

 

Environment

Go Backstage: How I got the Resource Institute story, plus a guide to documents for budding sleuths, citizen journalists

The story did not start with a tip. It began only with curiosity.

For kicks, one Friday afternoon I re-read the environmental portion of the state budget. On Page 132 of the 266-page document is Section 13.09, entitled “DEQ Grant-in-Aid.” The terminology sounds innocuous, as does the name “Resource Institute,” the organization benefitting from this “aid.”

Yet, the line item is hardly benign. The Winston-Salem nonprofit received $5 million in the state budget — an unprecedented gift, at least in modern times, to do .. well, no one’s really sure, but it has to do with sand and “emerging technologies” for North Carolina’s beaches.

Most of the well-known environmental organizations and fundraisers I spoke with had never heard of the group. Factor in the amount of money, especially considering the budget cuts exacted on the Department of Environmental Quality, the dearth of oversight, and the vague obligations that accompanied the windfall: The appropriation didn’t smell right.

So for the past three weeks, I spent more than 100 hours pouring through government, financial and scientific documents, drawing flow charts, filing public requests, talking to coastal officials. And no, sadly, I did not get to go to the beach.

The documents I used to build the foundation of the story are available to anyone, and most of them are free. The public has equal access to this information. For budding sleuths, here’s a primer on where to find it. Of course, interviews are vital to making sure the story is accurate and has the proper context. But the documents inform those interviews. Here we go!

First, I went to the Resource Institute’s website to learn about the group. Here I found the board and the principals of the organization, which helped later when I searched for their names in the campaign finance data.

I also searched LinkedIn to learn where the principals had previously worked and learned that Charles Anderson and Debbie Dodson are also real estate professionals working for the same company. Anderson also had a company Tidewater Development, which focuses on waterfront property. This indicated that Anderson has an interest in building on the coast. Nourishing beaches would help increase the value of desirable properties. I doublechecked this information at the Real Estate Commission’s licensing database.

Even though they don’t pay federal taxes, nonprofits are required to file documents called 990s with the IRS detailing their revenues, expenditures and other financial information, plus their board of directors, employees and if applicable, major contractors. That’s how I learned North State Environmental, Wildlands Engineering and several other firms had been paid by RI to do work.

After a while I had to resort to note cards spread on the floor to understand the myriad connections of power

It’s also where I learned that Pilot View RC&D had transferred money to the Resource Institute, which led me to Pilot View’s 990s. Here, I noticed that Pilot View and Resource Institute shared several board members and an office building. (I also consulted Google Street View, which showed a sign bearing both groups’ names at the same address.)

The website www.guidestar.org offers the 990s at no charge; the premium services gives you a bit more information, but I recommend the free version before spending $125 on data you might not need. The more expensive version did get me financial information back to 2008, which helps track the rise and fall of the organizations’ fortunes.

The Secretary of State has a corporation search feature, which can also be used to find nonprofits. You can also search by company official, which further confirmed connections between Resource Institute, Pilot View and a lesser-known group Enviro Impact. I also searched for all of the associated contractors — pulled from the 990s — which gave me a lot more names for my files.

I visited all of the contractors’ websites and wrote down the names of everyone listed as an employee. A source also helped me make the connection between North State Environmental and Atlantic Reef Maker, which cemented Resource Institute’s interest in coastal issues.

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