This week was our second “final” week of short session this summer. And it may not be the last. As is often the case in the final days of a legislative session, mischief increases towards the end. For example, a regulatory reform bill that had been considered dead last week returned to life last night and was passed today.
Regulatory Reform – a gift basket for polluting industry:
Conforming with tradition to pass bad environmental bills at the very end of session, the legislature today passed a regulatory reform bill full of giveaways to regulated industry at the expense of the environment. There were several regulatory reform bills in negotiation throughout the session, including S 734 and S 38. A conference report for S 734, which included many old and some new provisions, was made public last night – and passed today; it next goes to the Governor to be signed (unless he were to decide to veto it).
Among the provisions in S 734 that are problematic for the environment are the following:
A provision that would allow a speed limit waiver to be granted for special events in state parks and forests. It would allow any person to petition DENR to waive the standard 25 mph speed limit in a state park or forest for a special event. According to reports, this speed limit statute is the only obstacle to the Division of State Parks, for the first time, issue a permit for exclusive use of the main attraction of a state park for private purposes (specifically, for auto races). This measure was sought by political backers of Gov McCrory. Opening the door to allowing our state parks to be used exclusively by private groups is a serious matter. So serious, that if we are heading down that road, it should be properly discussed and debated, not put into a bill without explanation or public review.
Another provision of S 734 would weaken protection for wetlands. The provision would nearly eliminate protection for isolated wetlands in eastern NC by raising the acreage threshold for when a permit must be sought to an acreage higher than the size of most isolated wetlands. The threshold for when a developer must get a permit to impact isolated wetlands eastern NC is currently 1/3 acre. That doesn’t mean isolated wetlands cannot be built upon – just that a permit from the state is required to do so. Builders’ efforts to avoid permitting requirements actually end up protecting lots of wetland habitat – this bill would remove some disincentive to building in these areas. The provision also would reduce mitigation requirements for impacts to isolated wetlands statewide. Overall this provision is a negative for water quality because isolated wetlands are important for flood control, groundwater recharge and habitat.
Additionally there are several provisions that would negatively impact water quality at the coast, one that would make challenges to CAMA permits less effective by eliminating a stay on development when a legitimate claim is filed and another that would create a new exemption from coastal stormwater rules, essentially creating a windfall for certain properties but having a negative overall effect on water quality.
Representatives Luebke (D – Durham) and Rep. Insko (D – Orange) spoke up against the bill today because of the bad environmental provisions. A number of the provisions in the S 734 conference report that passed today were not in any prior version of the bill. Apparently, adding provisions in conference that were not in either bill is not acceptable when it comes to protecting groundwater for communities threatened by coal ash, but is fine when it means gutting environmental protections that have served North Carolinians well for decades.
Opportunity for Action:
Please thank Represenatives Luebke and Insko for sticking up for the environment by speaking up against S 734. And please contact the Governor to ask for a veto of this bill.
Coal Ash Bill Update – Deja Vu?
Its been more than six months since Duke Energy’s facility in Eden spilled nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. During this time legislators have promised the public a solution that will protect communities and prevent future disasters. The Sierra Club has advocated for a strong coal ash bill that would require clean up of coal ash at all 14 sites across the state and protect groundwater.
On Thursday the Senate again voted to not concur on the House version of the coal ash bill and re-appointed the same conferees as before (Senators Apodaca, Berger and Wade). The Senate had previously taken these same steps but then reversed themselves in an apparent late night effort to pressure the House to agree to a coal ash bill without additional groundwater protections that the House demanded. Since then, the House seems to have not given up on this demand – so the Senate reappointed the same conference committee – indicating that the coal ash bill is still being negotiated. It appears unlikely that that the coal ash bill will be resolved this month. It could possibly be addressed in a November session if the legislature chooses to return then – or in the 2015 long session.
On Thursday the Senate passed three adjournment resolutions to give the House options to choose from. The House has not yet chosen an adjournment resolution – so the legislature is not in agreement as to when to adjourn. The House and Senate have scheduled sessions Monday afternoon, but House Speaker Tillis said that may change to Wednesday.
Thanks for your volunteer advocacy!
Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations
Sierra Club – NC Chapter