Environment, Legislature

It’s raining GenX bills: GOP legislation largely ignores DEQ for funding

Rep. Ted Davis Jr. (Photo: NCGA)

Within hours of House Democrats filing HB 968, four more House members, this time all Republicans, put up their own bill, HB 972, which essentially rebuffs any meaningful appropriations for the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

Instead, it appropriates just $2.3 million to DEQ and gives money to just about anyone else who has asked for it: the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority ($450,000), local governments ($2 million), the state health department ($530,000), and the NC Collaboratory ($8 million).

The language in HB 968 resembles the Senate version of the Water Safety Act, introduced during a special session last winter, which seemed almost mean-spirited toward DEQ.

In comparison, Democrats introduced a bill today that would appropriate more than $14 million to DEQ and the state health department to address the GenX crisis.

In Republicans’ HB 972, DEQ is often used as a pass-through for funding. For example, The bill would appropriate $2 million in one-time money to DEQ, which would then disperse funds to local governments to connect households to public water supplies. The polluter would then reimburse the state via a Recovery Fund.

Another $450,000 would go to DEQ for grants to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority for water sampling and testing new treatment technologies.

The $1.3 million in one-time money to DEQ would be used for temporary staff to conduct water quality sampling for emerging contaminants, to address permitting backlogs, and to sample and analyze GenX in the air, soil and river sediment.

(The funding is being diverted from the dead-on-arrival SePro project. Last year, lawmakers appropriated $1.3 million for the private company to test algae-killing chemicals and other dubious treatments in Jordan Lake. State environmental officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers killed the deal over concerns about potential harm to aquatic organisms and wildlife.)

Another $479,000 would go toward statewide sampling for emerging contaminants, plus $537,000 for a high-resolution mass spectrometer.

Rep. Susan Martin (Photo: NCGA)

DEQ receives no funding to develop a detailed remediation plan for emerging contaminants, as laid out in the bill.

The big winner is the NC Collaboratory, whose research director is Jeffrey Warren, former science adviser to Sen. Phil Berger. The Collaboratory’s one-time $8 million windfall would be used to corral academics to conduct targeted and nontargeted monitoring for emerging contaminants in public water supplies. Money would also be used to buy equipment, pay for research time, study air emissions and to conduct computer modeling for private well contamination and treatment options — all duties usually assumed by DEQ.

The bill also contains a glaring redundancy. It directs the state health department to consult with federal authorities and academics via the Collaboratory to recommend health goals for fluorinated compounds, including GenX. That’s precisely what the Science Advisory Board is doing right now. In fact, it is expected to release its health goal recommendations in June.

Rep. Frank Iler (Photo: NCGA)

The co-sponsors of HB 972 are Republican Reps. Ted Davis Jr., Frank Iler, Bill Brisson and Susan Martin. All but Martin sit on the House River Quality Committee.

HB 972 empowers not only environmental regulators, but also the governor, under certain conditions, to require a facility to “cease all operations and activities” that result in the production of a pollutant.

Neither bill specifically mentions Chemours, but the punitive language in both applies to the company’s conduct in North Carolina.

All of these conditions must be met:

  • the facility has a NPDES discharge permit
  • it has received more than one notice of violation from DEQ within a two-year period
  • the discharge of the fluorinated compounds violates federal drinking water standards or health goals that have been implemented by the state health department
  • DEQ has been unable to stop the facility from these unauthorized discharges within a year of learning of them

DEQ first learned of Chemours’ GenX discharges in June 2017, almost a year ago.

Rep. Bill Brisson (Photo: NCGA)

Polluters would also be require polluters to cover the cost of alternative water supplies for households whose private drinking water wells have been contaminated. More than 100 such wells have been contaminated near Chemours Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County.

The Democrats’ version of the bill focused on forcing polluters, such as Chemours, to pay to clean up public water supplies they had contaminated.

Education, News

General Assembly bill: North Carolina schools should post “In God We Trust” in prominent location

Rep. Bert Jones, R-Caswell, Rockingham, filed a bill requiring schools to post “In God We Trust.”

North Carolina lawmakers began their “short” session this week with a flurry of filing activity, mostly centered on school safety but also delving into principal pay and whether or not schools should be forced to post the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on campus.

The latter bill, filed Thursday by several House Republicans, is likely to raise some eyebrows.

House Bill 965—co-sponsored by Bert Jones, Linda Johnson, Dean Arp and Phil Shepard—would require that public schools, including both traditional schools and charters, display the state and national mottoes in “at least one prominent location of each school, such as an entry way, cafeteria or other common area.”

The national motto is “In God We Trust.” The state motto, “Esse quam videri,” means “To Be, Rather Than To Seem” in Latin.

State House lawmakers, meanwhile, released a handful of bills that follow this year’s recommendations of  a school safety legislative panel. The committee met after a February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., touched off a wave of student-based activism, including calls for gun reforms in North Carolina.

As expected, the GOP lawmakers that led the panel will focus on school resource officers, peer counseling programs and threat assessment, rather than guns.

Among other things, the bills—filed by Republicans like House Majority Leader John Bell, David Lewis and John Torbett—would budget $1.8 million in grant funds for school resource officers in elementary and middle schools.

They would set state standards for school resource officer training and reporting while ordering the state to ready assessments of “facility vulnerability.”

And the panel’s legislation would direct publicly-funded traditional schools and charters—as well as private schools receiving state-funded vouchers—to develop school risk management plans, hold school safety exercises and provide details about their plans to local law enforcement.

Such provisions won’t spur controversy in the legislature, and are likely to be passed speedily.

Senate lawmakers also moved to address some critics’ concerns with a GOP-led, principal pay overhaul last year. Influential Republicans Jerry Tillman, a former school administrator, and David Curtis filed Senate Bill 718 Wednesday, which would extend “hold harmless” provisions for veteran administrators worried about impending pay cuts, a major point of contention for some district leaders and members of the State Board of Education.

GOP lawmakers moved last year to shift away from principal pay that’s based on years of experience and advanced degrees, instead determining pay according to school enrollment. Principals would also be eligible for  thousands of dollars in bonuses if students score higher on exams or they boost performance in a struggling school.

Critics of the Republican plan—which lifted base pay for new principals but may have yielded pay cuts for some veteran administrators—worried the new model would speed early retirements.

NCASA Executive Director Katherine Joyce said her organization supports the tweaks in the principal pay bill.

Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA), said the new bill addresses those concerns.

Joyce said the draft proposal would also create a new, three-year “hold harmless” easing transitions for high-performing principals into low-performing schools. Critics said the state reforms would discourage top principals from moving into schools that need the most improvement.

And this week’s bill combines the two principal bonus programs, ensuring administrators who made gains in their first year at a low-performing school aren’t left out.

“These are good changes overall that NCASA can support and are in line with changes we have requested lawmakers to consider,” Joyce said Thursday.

Legislators began restructuring principal pay in recent years after the state’s administrator pay was ranked near the bottom of the nation.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are expected to announce details of their budget plans in the coming weeks. Senate and House leaders say they’ve agreed to a spending target just short of $24 billion.

Legislators were welcomed back to session Wednesday by roughly 20,000 protesters demanding better teacher pay and better school funding.

News

Final decision on capitol Confederate statues could come in June

When the North Carolina Historical Commission met in March to hear public comment on removing Confederate statues from downtown Raleigh’s Capitol Square, it was expected that the commission’s study committee on the issue would have a recommendation for the full commission by April.

Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson of the N.C. Historical Commission.

But as we head into the end of May, the committee has yet to make its formal recommendation.

That recommendation – and a final decision from the commission –  may instead come next month, said committee member Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson.

“We are coming to a consensus,” Johnson said in an interview Thursday. “We ended up not making a decision in April and we’ve gone through most of the month of May getting feedback.  We got hung up with waiting to hear back from our lawyers to get their advice. And right now the committee members are deliberating and coming up with their own positions.”

Though a date hasn’t yet been set, Johnson said she believes there will be a meeting of the full commission in June. The study committee will likely meet first, with the full commission meeting and coming to its final decision afterward.

“We’ll likely each have our own separate statements as well,” Johnson said.

At issue are three monuments on the capitol grounds, among about a dozen other statues. They are:

* The 75-foot Capitol Confederate Monument, erected in 1895, which commemorates North Carolina’s “Confederate dead.”

* The Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument, erected in 1912, which commemorates the first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War combat at the Battle of Bethel on June 10, 1861.

* The Monument to North Carolina Women of the Confederacy, erected in 1914.

Last September the full historical commission put off a decision on removing three Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds. Instead, the commission formed a task force to study the politically fraught issue, which the North Carolina General Assembly dropped into their laps with a 2015 law that makes it more difficult to remove such statues.

The study committee consists of:

  • Chris Fonvielle, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
  • Valerie Johnson, the Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies and Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Greensboro’s Bennett College and chair of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.
  • Noah Reynolds, a real estate investor and entrepreneur and trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
  • Sam Dixon, an attorney and preservation advocate from Edenton.
  • David Ruffin, a banker and chairman of the commission.

It’s not yet clear what will happen if the North Carolina General Assembly, which began its legislative session this week, ends its session before the Historical Commission makes its final recommendation. Legislative leaders in the GOP controlled state House and Senate are on record opposing the statues’ removal. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has advocated for their removal.

 

 

Environment, Legislature

House members file bill to fund DEQ, target actions by Chemours

Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Cumberland County Democrat (Photo: NCGA)

Legislation filed today in the house would appropriate more than $14 million to the NC Department of Environmental Quality, while strengthening environmental laws that appear targeted at Chemours, the company that has contaminated drinking water, the Cape Fear River, air and groundwater with GenX and related compounds.

House Bill 968 would also repeal the Hardison amendment, which the Republican majority reinstated in 2011 CQ. The Hardison amendment prohibits state legislators or agencies from passing stricter laws and rules than those established by the federal government.

Since the EPA has proposed rolling back regulations on coal ash, car emissions and clean water and air, the Hardison amendment could significantly hamstring North Carolina’s attempts to strengthen its own protections.

The legislation has four Democratic co-sponsors: Reps. Deb Butler of New Hanover County, Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, and Billy Richardson and Elmer Floyd, both of Cumberland County. of the co-sponsors, three are in districts affected by Chemours; Harrison’s district includes rivers and streams polluted with other emerging contaminants, like 1,4-dioxane.

Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from New Hanover County (Photo: NCGA)

The bill also contains language that would require companies to fully disclose in their environmental permits all chemicals and compounds that they discharge. Other provisions further empower the Environmental Management commission to “immediately” suspend the discharge permit of companies that allow unregulated toxic pollutants to enter the air or water.

Since the GenX crisis began a year ago, DEQ has filed notices of intent to modify or suspend Chemours’ discharge permit, as well as issued notices of violation. But no permits have actually been suspended.

The bill also establishes conditions under which the DEQ secretary and the governor could declare an emergency when it finds that a “generalized condition of water or air pollution is causing imminent danger to the health or safety of the public.” In such cases, the polluter would have to “reduce or discontinue immediately” discharge of the contaminants.

Chemours recently argued to state environmental regulators that there was no public health emergency associated with GenX; in that case, the company argued, rigorous limits on concentrations in drinking and groundwater were not warranted.

Companies would also be required to provide filtration and treatment for water supplies contaminated by illegal discharges. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has already spent upward of $1.7 million to reduce the amount of GenX entering Wilmington’s drinking water supply below the state’s provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion.

The EMC could also force violators to reimburse the state for removing and halting the pollution, or face a civil penalty.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat (Photo: NCGA)

As for the funding, about $9 million would be recurring, and much of it for 39 positions devoted to managing, monitoring and analyzing GenX in water and air.

The balance would be allocated as one-time funds for scientific equipment, such as a high-resolution mass spectrometer, temporary staff to work on permit tracking and online access for the public, and upgrades to the Division of Water Resources’ Reedy Creek lab. That facility has not been upgraded in more than 25 years.

Rep. Billy Richardson, a Democrat representing Cumberland County (Photo: NCGA)

Another $536,000 would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to fund four positions: a medical risk assessor, toxicologist, epidemiologist and a public health educator.

Many of these funding requests had been made previously by the governor and other House lawmakers. The Senate has so far rebuffed those requests.