SELC op-ed: N.C. budget bungles GenX action

Bike riders take a break along the Cape Fear River waterfront in downtown Wilmington. (© Bill Sublette/SELC)
The state budget pushed through by North Carolina’s Republican leadership again fails to adequately address the water pollution issues dominating conversation in the Cape Fear region. More than a year ago decades of industrial water contamination came to light yet the state keeps playing politics with people’s drinking water, underfunding state agencies overseeing the issue and creating procedural hurdles to action. Derb Carter, Director of SELC’s North Carolina offices, outlined the numerous oversights in an op-ed published by Wilmington Star-News. Read an excerpt of the piece below.

After nearly a year, the General Assembly revealed its “plan” to address GenX pollution. Once again, it failed our families and communities in addressing GenX pollution. Legislators put their long-awaited GenX bill into the state budget and barred any changes or improvements. They then forced the budget through without any meaningful, substantive debate on such an important issue. It was “take it or leave it” on an up or down vote.

Legislative leaders apparently concluded that if you have veto-proof supermajorities in both houses, built on unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts rejected by a federal court, why not use your power?

Because people living along the lower Cape Fear River deserve better.

Since GenX pollution of the river and nearby water sources was disclosed to the public a year ago, hundreds of thousands of citizens have been living with the question whether their drinking water is safe. The GenX bill included in the budget does little to provide relief from the pollution by:

  • clouding the governor’s authority to address Chemours’ pollution directly,
  • diverting funds desperately needed by the Department of Environmental Quality to an academic research project led by Sen. Phil Berger’s former policy advisor, and
  • limiting the inadequate funds it does provide for the only agency capable of holding Chemours accountable.

The budget includes a provision appearing to give the governor authority to order Chemours to immediately halt the pollution, but the governor already has this legal authority. The legislature now proposes to complicate the exercise of that authority with required findings, procedures, reviews, and appeals.

Instead of restoring some of the funding methodically stripped from the Department of Environmental Quality over the past seven years, the legislation diverts most of the funding to a “collaboratory” at the University of North Carolina, headed by the Senate President’s former policy adviser. The collaboratory is directed to convene researchers and study the issue of emerging contaminants. It has no authority to take any actions to address actual pollution and cannot require Chemours to clean up its legacy of contamination.

The Department of Environmental Quality, on the other hand, has the authority and responsibility to address GenX and other pollution, and needs additional staff, resources, and equipment. The governor says DEQ needs at least $14 million just to do its job.

The agency needs equipment to detect and measure GenX and other emerging contaminants, including a mass spectrometer. The legislation includes funding for a spectrometer, but only one that would not have detected GenX, or any contaminants not yet known. DEQ identified the equipment and funding it needs to address Chemours’ widespread pollution. The legislature ignored DEQ’s request for specific equipment it needs to address GenX and other emerging contaminants, requiring it to purchase the wrong equipment and sending $5 million to the collaboratory.

It has taken a year for the legislature to act at all on GenX pollution. With that much time, there was hope for something that would actually make a difference. But unfortunately, the legislation not only falls short but may actually impede the GenX cleanup. Gov. Cooper should veto the bill.


Read the full letter here

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