N.C. House and Senate Bill Plays Politics Instead of Addressing Problem while the People of North Carolina Suffer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—What follows is a statement by Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center in response to the North Carolina Senate Bill 724 and House Bill 972 introduced by state legislators today.

“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.

“It is unconscionable that the legislature would put politics above the safety of drinking water for thousands of North Carolina citizens.
 
“Rather than fix the problem, the bill focuses on providing bottled water to some with contaminated wells, while ignoring others, and on enhanced treatment of public water supplies from sources polluted by GenX and other contaminants.  Any legislation should focus on eliminating the source of the pollution and not on expensive and risky efforts to provide alternative sources of or treated drinking water.”

“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. 

Background:
The Secretary of DEQ, with the concurrence of the Governor, has authority under existing law to order a facility to immediately halt air or water contamination that is causing a generalized condition of pollution that imperils public health. A petition for declaratory ruling has been filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center requesting that the Secretary of DEQ, with the concurrence of the Governor, halt all activities by Chemours that are polluting air and water with GenX and other per- and poly-flouroalkyl chemicals. 
 
Investigations have confirmed that most of the GenX in surface and groundwaters is from air emissions.  The bill requires DEQ to determine that Chemours has had unauthorized “discharges” of per- and poly-flouroalkyl chemicals into the air before initiating actions to halt the pollution.  In 2012, the legislature amended state law to prohibit any air emission that pollute waters from being considered a “discharge,” in effect authorizing by law all air emissions that pollute waters. 

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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