Ahead of the release of his short session budget, Governor Roy Cooper today shared his recommendations and requests to better protect the people of North Carolina from the health and safety threats of emerging contaminants like GenX. In total, the Governor’s budget will recommend $14.5 million for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to address the safety and quality of North Carolina’s water and environment.
“Protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe is critical, and my budget recommendations will give state agencies the tools they need to continue keeping North Carolina families healthy,” said Governor Cooper. “Our administration has taken strong action to hold polluters accountable, but we need meaningful investments in water testing, permitting, and scientific analysis to protect our environment statewide.”
The recommendations will include:
Water Quality and Sampling ($7 million) -- This funding will allow DEQ to collect and analyze data that can be used to make informed decisions about managing perfluorinated compounds (PFAS) as well as addressing the 40% backlog in NPDES permit renewals. Specifically, the funds will support 39 new full-time employees to conduct surface water, pore water and water supply well sampling and analysis across the state, as well as identify potential sources of contamination in groundwater, surface water, wastewater, soil and sediment. These funds would also allow the Division of Air Quality to conduct a rainwater collection and scientifically analyze potential air pollutants across the state. Conducting this type of scientific analysis is important to characterize emerging compounds and understand the components in water that may come from air pollution deposits.
Funding Scientific Equipment and Laboratory Analysis ($1 million) – New equipment will help DEQ to quickly and affordably test the threat to public health and safety resulting from discharges of emerging compounds. This request includes six new full-time employees dedicated to using this equipment and processing samples.
Bring DEQ into 21st Century ($4.4 million) – To better protect the environment without being a roadblock to economic growth, North Carolina must transform the industrial permitting process and bring it into the 21st century. DEQ is launching a permit transformation project to improve transparency and streamline the permitting process by providing online access and tracking for all permits.
Planning for Needed Facility Upgrades ($1.5 million) – These funds would be used by DEQ to plan for needed upgrades to the Reedy Creek Laboratory. The lab performs analysis for water quality, water resources, and air quality. It was constructed in 1991 and has not undergone a substantial renovation.
Additional Health Experts in Environmental Epidemiology ($536,000) – This funding will be used for DHHS to hire additional health experts to protect the health of North Carolinians by identifying and preventing adverse health effects due to toxic substances. Experts would include a medical consultant to serve as a medical risk assessor, a PhD- level environmental toxicologist, a public health educator and a public health epidemiologist.
Since last year, DEQ has taken strong action to hold Chemours accountable for GenX pollution in the Cape Fear River and in the air. That action has come despite major legislative cuts to the agency. Since 2013, DEQ has seen 77 positions eliminated from water quality and water resources, and a 45 percent reduction in water quality and water resources permitting, enforcement, and compliance staff, which has contributed to a backlog in permit requests.
For comparison, North Carolina has 60 more water discharge facilities than South Carolina and 147 more discharge facilities than Kentucky, but each of those states has almost twice as many permit writers.
“Budgets are about priorities, and our budget request shows that our number one priority is the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” said Secretary Michael S. Regan. “We cannot do our job to the best of our ability without the technology and staff to actively monitor pollution in our state. We ask that the legislature partner with us to adequately fund DEQ for the first time in nearly a decade.”
“This budget request strengthens our ability to protect the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” said Mandy Cohen, MD, secretary of the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services. “We need specialized staff to continue to address emerging trends and support our mission.”