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Governor Cooper Comments on Republicans’ Political Water Safety Bills

RALEIGH

Governor Cooper on HB 972 and SB 724, legislative Republicans’ insufficient proposal to address emerging contaminants in North Carolina’s air and water:

“This legislation makes it harder to keep our air and water clean and it sends funding to the wrong place, providing little more than political cover to legislators who have failed to act. People are tired of politics polluting their water, and state agencies responsible for holding polluters accountable need resources to stop pollution and keep people safe.”

GOP GenX Response Fails to Address the Problem: What People Are Saying

Southern Environmental Law Center:
“The legislature’s supposed response to the GenX crises continues to play politics instead of taking immediate action to address the problem.

Rather than clarify or enhance state enforcement authority, this bill imposes multiple requirements on the Governor before he can order a facility that is potentially poisoning people to cease all polluting operations and activities—creating unnecessary hurdles to effective action. This is pointless given the Governor’s existing authority, and appears intended to protect the polluter, Chemours.

Rather than fund the agency that can address the ongoing threat from Chemours’ unlawful pollution, the bill funds additional ongoing studies. The bill would give $8 million to the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC established by the legislature and run by the former policy advisor to the President of the Senate, Senator Berger. Meanwhile, it provides a meager $1 million in new funding to the Department of Environmental Quality, the agency with statutory authority to force Chemours to protect our air, water, and groundwater. The bill does little to reverse the General Assembly’s consistent efforts to cripple the agency. Additional funding to abate the pollution should be directed to the Department of Environmental Quality, which has the authority to address the problem, and a demonstrated need for additional staff, equipment and funding.” 

Sierra Club:
“The proposal has significant problems and is not a sufficient response to GenX and emerging contaminants. Firstly, the bill creates confusion by suggesting that it gives the governor authority that his office does not already have to shut down Chemours (the company releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River). Rather than giving the governor new authority, the bill creates new roadblocks to enforcement of existing air and water laws…

The proposal also continues the Senate’s trend toward using the UNC Collaboratory as a legislative research shop, after seven years of starving DEQ of resources.”

Robin Smith, former Deputy Secretary of NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources:
“Although the intent may be to provide a quick response to PFAS pollution, the provision may actually slow or undercut DEQ’s ability to pursue enforcement actions against Chemours or a future source of PFAS pollution…

The new provision raises questions about both the path forward on existing Chemours enforcement actions and the impact on future state enforcement actions in response to release of PFAS from other facilities…

The new provision also limits issuance of a Governor’s order in several ways that don’t apply when DEQ exercises its existing water quality and air quality enforcement authority.”

Ryke Longest, Clinical Professor at Duke University School of Law and Nicholas School of the Environment:
“In contrast, Senate Bill 724 makes existing enforcement against Chemours plant harder, allocates millions of dollars to agencies with no enforcement authority, and creates uncertain liability for intermediaries who have treated wastewater from homes, businesses and military bases. The bill creates a whole new set of criteria which must be proved by DEQ in order to make Chemours undertake any actions at all, disrupting existing cases and imposing new proof requirements on the agency. Meanwhile the agency is forced to borrow lab equipment from local research universities to do testing, even though university personnel have other jobs and are not available to testify as investigative officers on behalf of the state against polluters in the new court and administrative hearings required by the bill. Senate Bill 724 poses a real danger of letting Chemours off the hook.”

Background on GenX
For years, legislators have cut water safety budgets, weakening safety oversight of our state’s air and water instead of strengthening the agencies responsible for working with state, local, and federal regulators to protect our environment.

  • Since 2013, DEQ has seen more than 70 positions eliminated from water quality and water resources, a 41% reduction in water quality and water resources staff.
  • These agencies are redirecting resources to address GenX, but they need scientists and health experts to continue to protect public health statewide.

Cuts to clean water resources are particularly evident when comparing North Carolina to other states.

  • South Carolina has 17 permit writers for 159 facilities with NPDES permits.
  • Kentucky has 15 permit writers for 73 facilities with NPDES permits.
  • North Carolina has 9 permit writers for 220 NPDES facilities.

Despite the cuts, DEQ has taken strong action against Chemours.

  • By legal and administrative action DEQ has forced Chemours to stop the release of GenX contaminated wastewater and ordered the company to conduct cleanup of onsite GenX and PFAS contamination.
  • DEQ has required Chemours to provide bottled water to individual drinking well owners that have contaminated wells and requested the company submit a plan to provide permanent through county or municipal water source to effected residents.
  • DEQ has filed an amended complaint and motion for preliminary relief against Chemours to require the control of air emissions of GenX compounds.

Governor Cooper’s budget proposed $14.6 million to give state agencies the resources and personnel to monitor and protect air and drinking water and hold polluters accountable. Unfortunately, after more than a year of inaction, Republican legislators appear more interested in political solutions than protecting North Carolina families.

Republican leaders have offered a misleading set of half-measures that cause confusion, limit the ability to hold polluters accountable and divert needed resources away from regulators and to researchers who have no legal authority to stop polluters, which will ultimately lead to duplication, wasted time and ongoing water pollution. 

 

 

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