This was somewhat of a slower week in the General Assembly as most House members did not come to Raleigh until Thursday and the Senate had a light committee schedule. Lawmakers took a break from testy budget negotiations so the drama between the House and Senate (which have vastly different budget proposals) died down compared to previous weeks. All negotiations – and associated rancor between the chambers – is likely to start back up next week.
Update on the coal ash bill:
You may recall that last week the Senate voted to not concur on the coal ash bill – S 729 – which means that House and Senate conferees will privately negotiate a final bill. Senate conferees were appointed last week; they are: Senators Berger (R – Guilford, Rockingham), Wade (R – Guilford) and Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania). House conferees were appointed this week and they are: Representatives McGrady (R – Henderson), Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg), Hager (R – Burke, Rutherford) and Glazier (D – Cumberland). These conferees will negotiate the details of the final bill, sign a conference report, and then the conference report will go back to each chamber for approval.
Opportunity for Action:
As you may recall, the coal ash bill still lacks assurances that groundwater will be protected from coal ash pollution at all sites. Please contact the conferees and ask them to ensure that any closure method Duke Energy is allowed to use is protective of groundwater.
The legislature targets water quality and energy efficiency standards:
Today the legislature passed House Bill 201 “Building Reutilization for Economic Development Act” – chipping away at stormwater management and energy efficiency standards. Last week, the Senate Rules Committee introduced a revised and renamed bill from the 2013 session with four new pages of exemptions for commercial redevelopment projects from:
- energy efficiency standards in the NC Building Code Energy Code;
- stormwater rules to prevent runoff of pollution during rain; and
- the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) – which requires preparation of a report disclosing environmental impacts for projects that receive public funds.
Next H 201 goes to Governor McCrory for signature to become law. The result of this bill will be that some commercial buildings will be allowed to be built 30% less energy efficient, get exemptions from stormwater rules and exemptions from the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). While weakened standards may be attractive to some developers, this bill represents an overall loss to the public in terms of energy savings, water quality and knowledge about the environmental impacts of publicly funded projects. Taxpayers deserve to know if projects that have an element of public funding are impacting the environment. Further, it’s crucial that new construction be held to current efficiency standards to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Thursday, H 201 was the focus of a debate in the House. Representatives Luebke (D – Durham), McGrady (R – Henderson), Glazier (D – Cumberland), and G. Martin (D – Wake) expressed concerns about the substance of the bill and the way new sections were added by the Senate just last week – with no time for House members to consider the impacts. Representative G. Martin made a motion for the bill to be sent to House Environment Committee where it could be properly vetted by House members – but his motion was tabled (a procedural move to avoid taking a vote). We asked House members not to concur on this bill – but a majority of the House did so – and so the bill passed 66-42. Please thank the members who spoke up against this bill and those who voted against it.
The Senate aims to replace riparian buffer rules:
S 883 “Disapprove/Amend Buffer Rules” would strike a list of environmental rules created to protect water quality that were only recently adopted in favor of different rules that were developed by an industry stakeholder group. This bill passed the Senate this week and was referred by the House to the Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Regulatory Reform for review. The existing buffer rules resulted from a lengthy stakeholder negotiation process in which environmental groups were involved while the proposed rules were created by a separate stakeholder group that did not include environmental groups. Overall this bill seems to be based on a flawed process and to benefit mitigation bankers at the expense of water quality.
And the Senate may not not share Triangle residents’ regional transit dreams:
The Senate passed H 1224 “Local Sales Tax for Education/Econ Dev Changes” this week to cap the total sales tax a county may levy. Last week’s version of H 1224 would have disallowed counties from using local sales tax revenues to fund both public education and public transit (strangely forcing a choice between the two). Thankfully, the bill was amended this week to fix that problem. Unfortunately the sales tax cap still presents problems for Triangle communities that have plans to create a regional transit system. H 1224 was referred to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.
Thank you for your dedication and advocacy!
Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations
Sierra Club – NC Chapter