Sierra Club NC Chapter Legislative Update – July 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

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!
Best,
Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

Join the virtual rally to #ActOnClimate

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Dear friends,
Join the virtual rally to support limits on carbon pollution!

Join the Thunderclap!

Take action

In just a few clicks you can help make historic limits on carbon pollution a reality.

President Obama promised that his administration would take action to confront the climate crisis — and now the EPA has finally proposed the first-ever safeguards against carbon pollution from our nation’s aging power plants.

From July 29-31, the EPA will be holding public hearings on these historic limits. Hundreds of activists will testify and rally outside hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Even if you can’t be there in person, you can help put pressure on the EPA by donating a tweet or Facebook status update in advance, all timed to hit at once as the hearings begin Tuesday morning. 

This will help make #EPA and #ActOnClimate important trending topics on social media, creating a buzz for people to take action. It also puts pressure on EPA to listen to grassroots activists, not lobbyists paid by the big polluters.

Join the “Thunderclap” to support limits on carbon pollution, showing EPA that Americans demand they #ActOnClimate.

You may be asking yourself, what’s a “Thunderclap”?

Here’s how it works: we provide you with a message of support for EPA to #ActOnClimate (which you can personalize), and using an online service called Thunderclap, you can have the message automatically posted to your Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr accounts at the exact same moment as hundreds of others across the country.

Donate a Tweet, Facebook status, or Tumblr post now.

This is a big deal, and the big polluters know it. 

This is the beginning of what could be the biggest climate fight in history. Fossil fuel billionaires are mobilizing like never before. They’re already sending their lobbyists to Washington and spreading their fear-mongering talking points on Fox News. While their money talks, they can’t match our people power.

By joining this virtual rally of thousands of people taking action online, you will fight back. You will also spread the message directly to your friends, family, and followers– the people you have the most social media influence over. No talking head or slick ad campaign will be as influential as you.

Spread the message and ask your friends and followers to submit a written comment into EPA supporting their Clean Power Plan.

Thank you for all you do,

Andy Wilson

Online Organizer
Beyond Coal Campaign

P.S. Six messages are more powerful than one! After you take action, forward this message to five of your friends and family and make sure you spread the word about the Thunderclap on social media.

July 23rd Monthly Meeting: Outdoor Treasures of Mecklenburg County

Outdoor Treasures

Please join us on Wednesday July 23rd for a presentation on the Outdoor Treasures of Mecklenburg County.

Stephen Hutchinson, Nature Center Manager at Latta Plantation, will present on the abundant resources of Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department. You will be delighted to learn about such great opportunities as kayak tours, canoe rentals, horseback riding, tractor drawn hay rides, cowboy style campfire dinners, Segway adventure tours, GPS treasure hunts, hiking, camping, and more – all nearby.

As usual our meeting is at the Mahlon Adams Pavilion in Freedom Park. It begins at 6:30pm with free pizza, followed by a short business meeting, and then the formal presentation.

Parking is free. All are welcome. We look forward to seeing you.

Join us July 31 for Solarfest: A Solarize Charlotte Celebration

Solarfest

Join us as we celebrate the success of Solarize Charlotte and look to the future! Since our launch in April, we have far surpassed our goals, reaching out to hundreds of homeowners across the city. And Solarize is just the beginning of the solar revolution for Charlotte and North Carolina.

We will have food (a variety of food trucks will be on location), drinks, music, kids activities, and volunteer appreciation.

We will celebrate those who helped make Solarize Charlotte so successful: our volunteers, coalition partners, installer, and homeowners.

Event Details:
July 31st
6-8:30pm
Area 15 (off N. Davidson St.)
514 E. 15th St.
Charlotte, NC 28205

Sierra Club NC Chapter – Legislative Update 07-18-14

Protect Enviro Democracy

Dear Friends,

This week in the General Assembly it began to really feel like the end of session with a variety of old proposals resurfacing and quickly moving through committees without much discussion.

Update on the coal ash bill:

On Monday the Senate failed to concur on the coal ash bill – S 729 – which means that House and Senate conferees will negotiate a final bill behind closed doors. Senator Apodaca asked Senators to not concur so that some changes made by the House could be fixed. Apodaca specifically noted that he does not support the variance procedure added by the House that would allow the Secretary of DENR to approve variances to deadlines in the bill and he does not support housing the new Coal Ash Management Commission under DENR. The Senate’s version of the coal ash bill had the Coal Ash Management Commission housed under the Department of Public Safety. We expect to see changes to both of these parts in a final bill. Senate conferees were appointed yesterday – they are: Senators Berger (R – Guilford, Rockingham), Wade (R – Guilford) and Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania). House conferees have not yet been officially appointed but Representatives McGrady (R – Henderson), Samuelson (R – Mecklenburg)and Hager (R – Burke, Rutherford) carried the bill in the House so they are very likely be appointed as conferees. The coal ash bill may not come to a final vote until the very end of session (which should be in the next few weeks) because votes on major bills are often held back until the end to encourage negotiation between the chambers.

Opportunity for Action:

As you may recall, the coal ash bill still lacks assurances that groundwater and surface water will be protected from continuing pollution at all sites. Please contact the Senate conferees and ask them to add clear standards to the bill to ensure that any closure method allowed is protective of groundwater near coal ash sites.

Everything old is new again?

  • Last session the House passed H 201, then called “Reinstate 2009 Energy Conservation Codes” to roll back energy efficiency requirements for commercial buildings. But the bill was never brought to a vote in the Senate. This week, the Senate Rules Committee introduced a revised version of H 201 that renames it “Building Reutilization for Economic Development Act” and narrows the impact of the energy efficiency rollbacks but then proposes new exemptions from stormwater rules and the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for some commercial buildings. If passed, the result would be that some commercial buildings would be allowed to be built 30% less efficient and would get exemptions from the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). We understand that the intent of the bill is to help one company redevelop a building, but nonetheless its a statewide bill. Energy use in buildings accounts for 70% of total electricity use. And since buildings have a lifespan of between 50 and 75 years it’s critical that new construction be to efficient standards to reduce our overall energy usage and dependency on dirty energy like coal. H 201 is calendared to be voted on by the Senate on Monday.
  • S 883 “Disapprove/Amend Buffer Rules” would strike a list of environmental rules created to protect water quality that were only recently adopted. The existing rules resulted from a lengthy stakeholder negotiation process in which environmental groups were involved. The new proposed rules were created by a separate stakeholder group that did not include environmental groups. One of many problems we see with this bill includes striking a requirement for those who do mitigation projects to provide funds for long term maintenance. Mitigation projects are meant to make up for the loss of wetlands and habitat to development but if we don’t ensure their long-term success we are not really mitigating our losses. More to follow on this bill. S 883 is on the Senate calendar for Monday evening along with H 201.

And why should we have to choose between education and transit?

H 1224 “Local Sales Tax for Education/Econ Dev Changes” was revised by the Senate this week to add a cap on the total sales tax a county may levy and disallow counties from using local sales tax revenues to fund both public education and public transit (thereby forcing a choice between the two). The Senate changes to this bill received negative attention from a number of groups this week, including Sierra Club. H 1224 was removed from the Senate calendar Thursday and sent to Senate Finance Committee where there will likely be revisions proposed on Monday evening. We created an action alert on this bill for Wake County residents since we know that Wake County is considering a transit tax; but again this is a statewide bill so if this concerns you please contact your Senator.

Thank you for your interest and volunteer advocacy! Be on the lookout for more frequent updates and action alerts as the legislative session comes to a close.  The end of session always brings surprises.

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

NC Sierra Club Footnotes Online – July 2014

North Carolina Chapter Sierra Club

Dear friends,

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Our newsletter has a new look this month.  It’s part of our ongoing effort to make it easier for you to understand what’s going on in North Carolina and for you to take action on issues you care about.

Please enjoy this issue of Footnotes and thanks for all the work that you do to make our state a better place to explore, enjoy, and protect.

Cheers,

Your staff at the North Carolina Sierra Club

 

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Take Action on Coal Ash

Legislators from the NC House and NC Senate will soon start working on the final details of the coal ash bill.  We need you to write to legislators and let them know the final version of the bill must ensure that coal ash will no longer pollute our state’s waterways.

Every coal ash site in North Carolina is leaking. The only way to make sure all of North Carolina’s communities are protected from dangerous coal ash is for you to demand comprehensive action from legislators.

Click here to read more and to take action!

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Speak Up for Clean Water!

Right now, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is accepting public comment on a proposed set of water quality standards meant to keep North Carolina in compliance with the Clean Water Act and adopt EPA standards for metals.

Federal law requires states to review and update water quality standards every three years. North Carolina last did it in 2007. And while DENR has proposed a number of updates for the first time in 7 years, there are still some things missing that North Carolinians deserve.

Click here to read more and to take action today!

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Solar is Rising

Right now, North Carolina has the second most solar capacity in construction in the country. And this isn’t anything new.  For the past few years, our state has been a solar powerhouse, creating jobs and investment all across the state. However, the development that’s creating jobs and investment has been mostly limited to utility scale projects – large farms being clean energy online.

However, the NC Sierra Club is working to protect and expand policies that can make rooftop solar more practical.  Putting power on roofs is how NC can become first in solar. Find out more about our campaign and how you can stay in the loop at FirstinSolar.org.

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Wilderness Spotlight: Middle Prong

This month, we take a look at the Middle Prong Wilderness. This protected area was created by the 1984 Wilderness Act which celebrated its 30th anniversary in June.

Comprised of 7,900 acres in Western North Carolina, Middle Prong was once inhabited by the Cherokee and was settled by pioneers in the late 1700’s.  Find a full description of this wilderness area, including pictures and maps, at the most recent blog post on OurWildNC.org.

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Intern Spotlight

Every summer, the NC Sierra Club is lucky enough to have interns help tackle the tasks related to protecting our air, water, and natural places.  This year, we have two top notch interns helping on everything from legislative issues to wilderness and everything in between.

Please take a moment to learn about the great work being done by Brianna van Stekelenburg and Caroline Spence in their intern spotlight profiles and thank them for all that they do.

Click here to read about our 2014 summer interns.

Upcoming Events and Outings

Note: The deadline to participate in the Wilderness Challenge has been extended to July 31Click here for challenge details and to register!

August 22 – 24Outings Leader Training at Hanging Rock State Park

This training is for outings leaders who have taken Sierra Club OLT101 (basic outdoor leadership training) within the last 4 years.  This training will prepare participants to lead overnight trips away from cars (Sierra Club Level 2 outings).

Space is limited and the registration deadline is Wednesday August 6th.

Please contact Kelly Mieszkalski (kellymieszkalski@yahoo.com, 919.624.2225) or Nancy Card (nostalgicnan@gmail.com or 910.540.3088) with any questions.

Click here to register via Eventbrite!

August 2Tree ID Walk (summer edition) – Clemmons State Forest, Clayton, NC

Join the Capital Group for a summertime walk in the woods and tree identification outing. Hike consists of 0.6 miles on the talking tree trail and 0.8 miles on the talking rock trail. Guests may want to bring your bird or tree guidebook or a bottle of water. This is not a backcountry hike and no special skills or equipment are required. Outing is free and open to the public, limited to the first 12 to sign up at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tree-id-walk-tickets-12243363229

August 16Shining Rock Wilderness Day Hike – Near East Fork, NC

This hike is part of the Our Wild North Carolina Celebration!  This is a moderately strenuous 10-mile round trip hike that will cross Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Flower Knob to Shining Rock and be at altitudes above 6,000 ft.  For more information, contact Joel Wooten at (336) 466-1314 before 9:00 pm, or joelhike@yahoo.com.  Wilderness outings are limited to 10 hikers. Click here more information.

Want to know the latest? Join us on Facebook or Twitter!

Did you know you can make a monthly gift to the NC Sierra Club? Find out how you can make a sustaining gift by visiting our website, or contacting the Chapter office at 919-833-8467.

Money Flower

Donate Button

Webinar: How To Testify at EPA Clean Power Plan Hearing

LEARN HOW TO TESTIFY! Want to learn more about how to give effective public comments on the Clean Power Plan?

Testify

Join us for a Webinar on July 24
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/540442391
The Chicago Organizing Team will lead a webinar on how to prepare persuasive testimony for the EPA Clean Power Plan hearings
Title: How To Testify at EPA Clean Power Plan Hearing
Date: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Time: 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

NC Public Citizen’s Hearing on EPA Carbon Rules – July 22, Chapel Hill

On June 2, EPA announced the first ever regulations of carbon pollution on existing power plants. The Clean Power Plan, as it is called, has a chance to be the single largest step the U.S. has ever taken to combat climate change. EPA is holding public hearing in four cities – North Carolina’s closest hearing is in Atlanta – NC Interfaith Power & LightClean Air Carolina, Environment NCNC Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club NC Chapter are collaboratively organizing a Citizen’s Hearing in Chapel Hill to gather testimony and public comments on the plan. Organizing groups will deliver these official public comments to EPA.

Think it’s time for the U.S. to acknowledge and address climate change, then come make your voice heard!

Date:  Tuesday, July 22nd – Chapel Hill, NC

Time:  5:30pm – 8:00pm  public testimony time slot sign-up upon arrival

Assembly Hall
5:30 – 8:00    Group Networking and Informational Tabling with snacks and beverages
6:00 – 7:00    Elected Officials and invited speakers will give testimony

Community Lounge
5:30 – 8:00    Public testimonies (2 min/person) recorded in groups of three

Location:
United Church of Chapel Hill
1321 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
919-942-3540

Sierra Club NC Chapter Legislative Update 07-11-14

Protect Enviro DemocracyDear Friends,

This week the General Assembly did not move any environmental bills forward that we have been monitoring because House and Senate leaders were busy hashing out the budget in contentious private meetings. That said, the coal ash bill and other bills we are following could move quickly next week as the legislature races to end the short session.

Status of the Coal Ash Bill

The coal ash bill - S 729 “Coal Ash Management Act of 2014” – was on the Senate calendar several days in a row this week, but was finally moved to Monday’s calendar for a vote of concurrence. Senator Apodaca (R – Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania), who is taking the lead on the coal ash bill in the Senate, has said that the Senate will vote not to concur on the bill because changes are needed. Specifically, he noted that he would like changes to:

1) the variance procedure added by the House that would allow the Secretary of DENR to grant an extension to deadlines in the bill;  and

2) the agency location and makeup of the Coal Ash Management Commission.

Procedurally, after the Senate votes to not concur – the coal ash bill will go to conference – which means that House and Senate leaders will appoint legislator conferees who will meet in private to iron out differences and come up with a final bill.

A major environmental concern remaining in regards to the coal ash bill is the lack of clear standards to ensure that all closure methods are protective of groundwater near coal ash sites. All 33 coal ash ponds at 14 coal plants in North Carolina are leaking toxic heavy metals into the groundwater.  Without clear guidelines, this bill could allow coal ash at 10 of these plant sites to stay in place, continuing to pollute our groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

Opportunity for Action:

Please contact Senator Apodaca, who will surely be on the coal ash bill conference committee, and ask him to add clear standards to the bill to ensure that any closure method allowed is protective of groundwater near coal ash sites.

What’s in the coal ash legislation that moves us forward? What is lacking?

Given the complexity of the coal ash bill – you may be interested in a broader picture of what the coal ash bill – S 729 – will do. Certain provisions in the House and Senate versions of the coal ash bill are not in contention and so will very likely be part of the final bill. These include the following provisions sought by the Sierra Club and its coalition partners:

  • Bring coal ash under the state’s current solid waste management laws:
    • The legislation makes wet coal ash subject to North Carolina’s fairly stringent construction, monitoring and siting standards for solid waste.
  • Address future management of wet ash:
    • The legislation requires wet coal ash disposal to be phased out entirely by the end of 2019. The coal ash bill will prohibit construction of new or the expansion of wet coal ash ponds beginning in August 2014. Then, by October 2014 no additional coal ash will be allowed to be disposed of in wet coal ash ponds at retired plants.
    • By the end of 2018 no stormwater may enter the coal ash ponds at retired plants and all active coal ash plants must convert to dry fly ash handling only. By the end of 2019, no stormwater may be discharged into coal ash ponds at active coal plants and active coal plants must convert to dry bottom ash handling only.
  • Set a timeline and fixed date to close out all 33 wet coal ash ponds
    • The legislation sets clear deadlines for closing out all 33 coal ash ponds. Four coal ash plant sites are identified for clean closure (excavation of ash and putting ash into lined storage. The remaining 10 sites would be categorized by the new Coal Ash Management Commission and put into either high, intermediate or low risk category based on a list of factors. High and intermediate categorization would require excavation of ash and putting ash into lined storage. Low risk sites would be allowed to be capped in place. [Note: Although groundwater monitoring and financial assurance would be required, the  closure standards for capping in place as currently in the bill do not adequately protect groundwater.]
  • Adequately regulate structural fill:
    • The legislation requires construction, siting and monitoring standards for large structural fill projects. Also, a one year moratorium on smaller structural fill projects is established while standards are studied by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
  • Close the highest risk sites first:
    • Clean closure, with removal of coal ash, from the four sites listed in the legislation: Dan River – Eden, Riverbend – Charlotte, Sutton – Wilmington and Asheville.  [Note that these sites are all in litigation, and that Duke Energy has already publicly committed to cleaning them up.]
  • Removal of a loophole in 2013 legislation that allows Duke Energy to extend the compliance boundary by acquiring additional property, even if that property is on the other side of a drinking water supply lake.
  • More funding for DENR to regulate coal ash: though not part of the coal ash legislation, both chambers have included funding for 20+ new positions at DENR to implement the requirements in the coal ash bill.

What remains to be addressed or improved in the pending coal ash legislation?

  • Criteria for prioritizing wet coal ash ponds for closure that is tied to groundwater contamination.
  • Setting minimum standards, based on scientific data, for closure. Closure standards should allow alternatives to moving the ash from unlined ponds near water only if those alternatives are demonstrably as effective in protecting water supplies as removing the source of contamination.
  • Standards for using coal ash for structural fill for structural fill projects under 80,000 tons/project of 8,000 tons/acre.
  • A provision that appears to be an attempt to undermine a recent NC Superior Court decision by Judge Paul Ridgeway, that is currently under appeal. The Ridgeway court order requires Duke Energy to immediately remove the source of contamination from coal ash ponds that are polluting groundwater.
  • A politically appointed new commission with broad discretion and little accountability to work with DENR to implement the bill. The new commission can use cost as a reason to reject a proposed closure plan.
  • Open pit mines are included as an option within the definition of structural fill. Large structural fill projects including those in open pit mines (over 8,000 tons/acre or 80,000 tons/project) would have to comply with the standards for large structural fill projects in the bill (standards including liners, groundwater monitoring, etc…). Smaller structural fill (including open pit mine) projects would be subject to a 1 year moratorium during which DENR will study the issue. We do not know what, if any, standards will be developed for smaller structural fill projects including those that are open pit mines.
  • Variance provisions (in the House bill) would allow the Secretary of DENR to extend deadlines for closure of coal ash ponds. The Senate does not support this House change and so this may come out or change during conference.

Thank you for your volunteer lobbying efforts on this important issue!

Best,

Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations

Sierra Club – NC Chapter

cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org