* DENR Update – December 2, 2013


Dear Friends,

Sierrans turned out strong to urge DENR and EPA to protect water quality.

The Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality rules every three years and hold a public hearing on proposed changes and updates. Although the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) did not propose any updates and was six years late doing our state’s triennial review, a public hearing was, nonetheless, called and public comments offered on November 19th. Many Sierrans came out to speak up for water quality and to urge DENR to fill in significant gaps in North Carolina’s standards. For instance, our state is lacking EPA recommended updated standards for toxic heavy metals and totally lacking standards for nitrogen and phosphorus – the main nutrients that feed algal blooms that choke our waterways and kill fish.

The EPA has the authority to impose updated standards on a state if a state refuses to do so. North Carolina has been delaying adoption and update of many water quality standards for years. The public hearing was an opportunity for citizens to urge DENR to move ahead and to urge the EPA to take action if DENR does not.  Several EPA staff were present and taking notes at the hearing. Thank you to the Sierra Club members who came to the hearing, and thanks to those who spoke up for water quality in front of DENR, the EPA and over 100 people! There were twenty-eight speakers in favor of enhanced water quality protections and only two with concerns about over-regulation.  Thanks also to those who have submitted written  comments urging DENR to update water standards.  Keep ‘em coming!  DENR will have to respond to all substantive comments and comments will be entered into  the public record for the EPA to examine.

Please submit written comments through January 3, 2014 to DENR via email to Connie.Brower@ncdenr.gov. Please contact me if you’d like more detailed information on water quality standards that fall under this review.

And who the frack went to Arkansas?

If you are concerned about water quality standards then you may also be concerned about the potential effects of fracking on our state’s water quality. The Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) is busy crafting fracking rules that will then go to the legislature for review and possible adoption. If fracking is allowed, DENR will be the agency responsible for reviewing permit applications and issuing fracking permits to drillers. The legislature is expected to review MEC proposed rules beginning in October 2014 and perhaps give the green light to issue permits in 2015. Just before Thanksgiving, a group of legislators took a taxpayer-funded field trip to Arkansas to learn about the state’s oil and gas regulatory framework.  Oddly, no DENR staff are reported to have been on this trip. In fact, we don’t know which legislators went on this taxpayer-funded trip – because this information has not been disclosed. We hope that legislators are learning what not to do in Arkansas – since Arkansas has yet to figure out a good way to deal with fracking wastewater.

Arkansas has had problems with lots of low-level earthquakes associated with fracking wastewater underground injection wells.  North Carolina currently has a ban on the practice of underground injection of wastewater.  But, lawmakers challenged that ban earlier this year when the Senate proposed allowing underground injection in Senate Bill 76. Due to broad discomfort with wastewater injection, especially in eastern North Carolina where the geology is more suitable than in the Piedmont,  that part of the bill was dropped.  Arkansas also had water pollution problems with the land application of fracking wastewater.  We understand that now Arkansas’ fracking wastewater is shipped to Oklahoma.  What kind of solution is that? 

There may be a good solution to dealing with fracking wastewater – but we don’t yet know what it is.  North Carolina should not rush towards the development of another dirty energy source, just as we are finally seeing closure of many polluting coal-fired power plants.  North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission continues to meet and develop fracking rules; at every meeting there is an opportunity for public comment. Last month, the MEC discussed a draft chemical disclosure rule that will determine when and how a company may claim that a chemical used in fracking is a trade secret.  There were several worrisome efforts by the legislature this year to pre-empt the MEC’s chemical disclosure rule; but none of the proposals became law. The MEC will discuss this rule again this week, and then Commissioners plan to vote on the rule in January 2014.  The MEC is scheduled to submit all proposed fracking regulations to the legislature by October 2014. This means there’s still time to weigh in on how our state regulates the oil and gas industry.

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

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