Review: Major environmental and coal ash bills from the 2014 short session

Thanks to the NC Conservation Network for this excellent summary of the major environmental and coal ash bills from the 2014 short session!

NC Conservation Network Legislative Update

Short Session Wrap

After a very long three months, the NC General Assembly wrapped up the 2014 Short Session in August. The legislature adjourned sine die, meaning that it will not be returning in November to work on Medicaid legislation as it had earlier planned.

The short session was marked by three significant pieces of environmental legislation: fracking, regulatory reform and coal ash.

SL 2014-4 (S786 Energy Modernization Act)

This year’s fracking legislation was most notable for breaking the legislature’s 2012 promise to review the final rules developed by the Mining and Energy Commission before lifting the state’s fracking moratorium. Instead, the Energy Modernization Act will automatically allow DENR and the MEC to begin issuing permits beginning on the 61st calendar day following the date that all rules become effective.

The Energy Modernization Act also:

  • Weakens protections for groundwater wells by reducing the area of presumptive liability for contamination
  • Preempts local ordinances that prohibit oil and gas exploration, development and production activities
  • Reduces the amount of time available to the legislature to review the package of fracking rules developed by the MEC
  • Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to improperly disclose trade secret information related to hydraulic fracturing fluids

S734 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2014)

Following an annual trend, this session saw the passage of yet another regulatory overhaul with key environmental provisions. The final version of the Regulatory Reform Act represented only a portion of the provisions that were introduced at the beginning of the session, but the provisions that remain will result in significant environmental rollbacks.

Most notably, the Regulatory Reform Act:

  • Prohibits the Coastal Resources Commission from establishing or maintaining inlet hazard areas with certain characteristics
  • Weakens regulatory protections for isolated wetlands
  • Exempts development activities on certain properties from coastal stormwater rules
  • Provides that a CAMA permit contested by a third party will not be automatically suspended pending the contested case
  • Automatically subjects all state regulations stronger than federal minimum standards to legislative review

Provisions that were present in earlier iterations of regulatory reform legislation but were not included in the Regulatory Reform Act include:

  • Restrictions on third party challenges to air quality permits
  • Special privilege and immunity provisions for entities that conduct self audits and voluntarily disclose environmental violations
  • A requirement that DENR remove all ambient air monitors not required by federal law

S729 (Coal Ash Management Act of 2014)

After a significant period of debate and internal negotiations, the legislature passed a final coal ash bill on the last day of the short session. Governor McCrory has voiced concerns over the constitutionality of the Coal Ash Management Commission, a key piece of the legislation, but he is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The Coal Ash Management Act creates a complex framework that addresses existing coal ash sites on a tiered priority scale. Several key provisions include:

  • A prohibition on local ordinances that regulate or have the effect of regulating coal ash
  • Language aimed at undermining a recent court ruling requiring Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of groundwater contamination at its coal ash facilities
  • The establishment a new Coal Ash Management Commission to be located within the Department of Public Safety
  • Closure standards for low, intermediate and high risk impoundments, with the impoundments at the Sutton, Asheville, Dan River and Riverbend facilities automatically categorized as high risk
  • Deadlines for phasing out the wet handling of coal ash
  • Requirements for structural fill projects over a specified size
  • Regulation of coal ash as a solid waste
  • Dam safety requirements
  • The creation of 30 positions within DENR and the Department of Public Safety for coal ash management
  • The establishment of a new regulatory fee to pay for the costs of DENR oversight and the Coal Ash Management Commission

In addition to the legislation described above, several additional environmental bills made their way to the Governor’s desk this session.
SL 2014-95 (S883 – Mitigation Buffer Rule/Wastewater Treatment)

  • Disapproves recently adopted riparian buffer rules and instead directs the EMC to adopt rules resulting from a limited stakeholder process

SL 2014-103 (H366 – NC Farm Act of 2014)

  • Provides that complaints of violations against agricultural operations will be confidential until DENR determines that a violation has occurred
  • Restricts the local regulation of fertilizer
  • Classifies trespassing in an agricultural facility as a first degree trespass punishable as a Class A1 misdemeanor or Class H felony
  • Exempts drainage districts from riparian buffer rules

A full summary of the bills that passed during the 2014 short session is available here. Next year’s long session will begin with a clean slate of bills and likely a number of new legislators following the November elections.

The Legislative Update will return in January for the 2015 long session – enjoy the break!

Coal Ash

This year’s lengthy coal ash debate began shortly after the Dan River spill in February, which by Duke Energy’s estimates released up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Following the spill, the Environmental Review Commission began to study the issue, and the General Assembly ran through several versions of potential coal ash legislation. Governor McCrory joined the fray by releasing his own proposal, and several bills were introduced by both the House and the Senate:

H1226 (Coal Ash Management Act of 2014)

Primary sponsors: Representatives Harrison, Fisher, Glazier and Luebke
H1228 (Governor’s Coal Ash Action Plan)

Primary sponsors: Representatives McGrady, Samuelson and Hager

S856 (Coal Ash Management Act of 2014)

Primary sponsor: Senator Woodard

S729 (Coal Ash Management Act of 2014)

Primary sponsors: Senators Apodaca and Berger

Ultimately, S729 moved forward and passed out of the Senate in June. In July, the House passed a version of the bill that while very similar to the Senate version, added several significant new elements:

  • A variance procedure that would allow for extended closure deadlines
  • Language aimed at undermining a recent court ruling requiring Duke Energy to immediately eliminate the source of groundwater contamination at its coal ash facilities
  • Placement of the Coal Ash Management Commission within DENR

The Senate failed to concur with the House version of the bill due in large part to the addition of the variance provision and the relocation of the Coal Ash Management Commission, and a conference committee was appointed and tasked with coming to an agreement over the final version of the bill. The conference committee was comprised of: Senators Berger, Apodaca and Wade; and Representatives McGrady, Hager, Samuelson and Glazier. Representative Moffitt was also added to the conference committee during final negotiations.

After fewer than two weeks of negotiations, the conference committee was unable to come to an agreement and negotiations reportedly broke down over standards for low risk impoundments. At first it was announced that the legislature would take a hiatus on coal ash and possibly return to the issue in November. Instead, the conference committee returned to its negotiations in mid-August and quickly produced a conference report that had the support of all conferees.

The final conference report bridged some of the conflict between the House and Senate by placing limitations on the variance provision and adding language that would only allow DENR to approve capping in place for a low risk impoundment if the closure plan includes “design measures to prevent, upon the plan’s full implementation, post-closure exceedances of groundwater quality standards beyond the compliance boundary.” It also placed the Coal Ash Management Commission within the Department of Public Safety, satisfying the Senate’s concerns over its placement within DENR.

Fewer than 24 hours after releasing the conference report, both the House and Senate voted to approve it, sending it to the Governor’s desk and adjourning sine die to end the short session.

The final vote on the House floor received a considerable amount of debate, with a number of House Democrats voicing their concerns over various pieces of the bill. The majority of the debate focused on the bill’s failure to ensure that ratepayers would not be responsible for covering the costs of Duke Energy’s cleanup.

Representatives Alexander, Harrison, Martin, Insko, Luebke and Baskerville spoke against the bill, articulating concerns related to cleanup costs, ongoing groundwater contamination and the attempted undermining of a Superior Court ruling mandating immediate cleanup. Representative Harrison summarized her thoughts by thanking the conferees for their hard work, but stating that she wished the bill was stronger, particularly with respect to cleanup costs and the undermining of the Superior Court ruling.

Meanwhile, Representatives McGrady, Queen and Catlin spoke in favor of the bill as an important first step in managing coal ash. Following the debate, the conference report was approved by the House with a vote of 84-13.

The same evening, the Senate approved the conference report with very little discussion and a vote of 38-2. Senators Foushee and Van Duyn voted against the conference report, joining 13 of their colleagues in the House.

Governor McCrory has not yet signed the Coal Ash Management Act into law, but is expected to do so despite his concerns over the constitutionality of appointments to the Coal Ash Management Commission.

The final version of the bill is detailed in the 2014 summary of legislation here.

6 Buses from North Carolina to Sept 21 People’s Climate March – Sign Up Today!

PCM Crowd

There are now 6 BUSES FROM NORTH CAROLINA being organized for the people’s Climate March in NYC!!!!!!! 3 from the Triangle area and 1 each from Asheville, Boone and Charlotte. Seats are filling up fast so reserve a seat today!

AshevilleBus Captains Debby Genz dgenz@skyrunner.net and Mary Olson maryo@nirs.org

Boone – Contact Bus Captain Dave Harman dh.harman@hotmail.com

Charlotte – Register at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/charlotte-bus-to-nyc-peoples-climate-march-tickets-12748748851 or contact Bus Captains Hanna Mitchell hanna.mitchell@greenpeace.org and Bill Gupton at wmgupton@aol.com

Triangle Area – 2 buses being coordinated by Bus Captain Caroline Hansley caroline.hansley@greenpeace.org. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/triangle-bus-to-nyc-peoples-climate-march-tickets-12748714749

Triangle Area – 1 bus being coordinated by Greenway Transit/The Forest Foundation Bus. Sign up at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1W6YZN7yoiiDvBmhiwjNNjHwn394ajgXhesjlWsBkRqI/viewform?usp=send_form .

Reserve your seat today! Prices vary by location.

NC Coal Ash Bill – Speak Your Mind to Your NC Elected Official!

Call or send an email to your NC elected officials and let them know what you think of the bill. Do it today! (See contact information below)

Coal Ash Bill

Joint Press Statement on N.C. Coal Ash Bill S729 – S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution.

All communities deserve to have water supplies protected from the toxic threat of coal ash by moving coal ash to dry, lined storage away from our waterways.

All of Duke Energy’s coal ash disposal sites pollute groundwater, and existing law in North Carolina requires “immediate action to eliminate the source of contamination” at these sites. Politicians inserted language into Senate Bill 729 that guts existing law and undermines citizens groups’ ongoing efforts to ensure real cleanup of these polluting sites under existing law.

As Duke Energy sought previously through its proposed sweetheart settlement deal with the state, the bill gives Duke Energy amnesty for its leaking coal ash dams. Rather than requiring Duke to fix its leaking dams, S 729 would let the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shield Duke by authorizing uncontrolled discharges of contaminated wastewater into our rivers and lakes. Granting this responsibility to an agency with a history of putting the interests of Duke Energy over the public is a prescription for failure.

The legislature should require Duke Energy to clean up its leaking coal ash dams, and not allow DENR to paper over Duke Energy’s pollution.

Any bill written to weaken North Carolina’s protections against coal ash pollution is alarming given the recent disaster at Duke Energy’s Dan River facility and frequent promises from our elected representatives that this bill would protect citizens of North Carolina.

The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the following citizens groups in various court cases to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution across North Carolina: Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper.

 

SACE Response – NC Lawmakers Come Up Short on Coal Ash

Unfortunately, the bill they passed actually undermines current groundwater protection laws, fails to clean up 10 of North Carolina’s dangerous and polluting coal ash impoundments and lets Duke off the hook for the harm their dumpsites are causing communities and waterways statewide. As a News & Observer recent Editorial aptly stated, Senate Bill 729 “proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem.”

At the very least, lawmakers could have codified a judge’s ruling earlier this year (a result of citizen suits enforcing the Clean Water Act) that clarified the requirement in current law that Duke immediately remove all sources of groundwater pollution (i.e., every single one of their coal ash dumpsites, all of which have been polluting groundwater for years). Instead, the new bill will leave much of the state’s coal ash right where it is, either dewatered or capped in place next to waterways where it can pollute in perpetuity–a plan that lawmakers are touting as comprehensive clean up.

 

Good editorial – NC Coal ash bill offers a weak remedy

But this something is not much better than nothing. Essentially, Senate Bill 729 proposes to solve the coal ash problem by declaring it not a problem. Or, at least not an urgent problem. Only four of Duke Energy’s 14 coal ash sites are designated for cleanup by 2019. What to do with the rest would depend on risk assessments by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and approval by a commission whose members would be appointed by the legislature and the governor.

Addressing the problem with a commission delays action. It also assures that the “solution” will be the product of lobbying and the legislature’s prevailing desire to side with business interests over the interests, and in this case the health, of state residents. We need look no further than the state’s Mining and Safety Commission’s pro-fracking approach to safety issues to know how this even more politicized coal ash commission would work.

The bill makes it obvious just how broken, to borrow the governor’s term, environmental regulation is in North Carolina. It requires that the Department of Environment and Natural resources to have its coal ash decisions approved by a commission. The House’s lead negotiator on the measure, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the state’s environmental regulators can’t regulate coal ash directly because, “There’s ongoing criminal investigations right now.” A federal grand jury is investigating DENR’s actions related to coal ash.

Good response – Environmentalists slam new coal ash bill

Environmantalists noted that Duke already had said it planned to get rid of the ash at the four plants.

“The bill doesn’t explicitly require Duke to do anything it hasn’t already voluntarily committed to do or will soon be required by the federal government,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“A far cry from the historic bill lawmakers have touted, this plan chooses just four communities out of 14 across the state to receive cleanup,” said Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “The others, our lawmakers have decided, will have to wait for a commission of political appointees to decide their fate.”

“This bill is a big gift to a multi-billion-dollar utility giant,” said Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper for the Asheville-based environmental group Western North Carolina Alliance. “Instead of strengthening and furthering protections from coal ash, this bill attempts to weaken cleanup requirements already in place.”

 

Another good response – Method used for closing coal ash ponds linked to problems

The legislation that cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday allows Duke Energy to close some of its coal ash pits using a method – known as cap-in-place – that has been linked with groundwater contamination at the company’s Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, according to documents obtained by the Journal.

Conservation groups prefer that Duke excavate the coal ash at all 14 sites and put it in lined landfills. While Duke says that cap-in-place would be safe, conservationists say that pollutants in the coal ash left in capped ponds would eventually seep into groundwater and contaminate it – as has been documented by the Pine Hall landfill.

“This (legislation) leaves ongoing contamination in place – and that is a major policy shift for North Carolina,” said D.J. Gerken, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The legislation would also allow Duke to circumvent a Wake County Superior Court judge’s ruling that state law requires the immediate removal of sources of contamination, conservationists say.

 

Call or send an email to your NC elected officials and let them know what you think of the bill. Do it today!

Mecklenburg County Legislative Delegation

Kelly M. Alexander, Jr: Kelly.Alexander@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5778
William Brawley: Bill.Brawley@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5800
Rob Bryan: Rob.Bryan@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5607
Becky Carney: Becky.Carney@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5827
Tricia Ann Cotham: Tricia.Cotham@ncleg.net; (919) 715-0706
Carla D. Cunningham: Carla.Cunningham@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5807
Beverly M. Earle: Beverly.Earle@ncleg.net; (919) 715-2530
Charles Jeter: Charles.Jeter@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5654
Rodney W. Moore: Rodney.Moore@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5606
Ruth Samuelson: Ruth.Samuelson@ncleg.net; (919) 715-3009
Jacqueline Michelle Shaffer: Jacqueline.Shaffer@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5886
Thom Tillis: Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net; (919) 733-3451
Jeff Jackson, Jeff.Jackson@ncleg.net; (704) 942-0118
Joel D. M. Ford: Joel.Ford@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5955
Malcolm Graham: Malcolm.Graham@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5650
Bob Rucho: Bob.Rucho@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5655
Jeff Tarte: Jeff.Tarte@ncleg.net; (919) 715-3050

Mecklenburg County Representation (Website and district number)

House Members

Kelly M. Alexander, Jr. (District 107)
William Brawley (District 103)
Rob Bryan (District 88)
Becky Carney (District 102)
Tricia Ann Cotham (District 100)
Carla D. Cunningham (District 106)
Beverly M. Earle (District 101)
Charles Jeter (District 92)
Rodney W. Moore (District 99)
Ruth Samuelson (District 104)
Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer (District 105)
Thom Tillis (District 98)

Senate Members

Daniel G. Clodfelter (District 37) (RESIGNED 04/08/2014)
Joel D. M. Ford (District 38)
Malcolm Graham (District 40)
Jeff Jackson (District 37) (APPOINTED 05/06/2014)
Bob Rucho (District 39)
Jeff Tarte (District 41)

NC Sierra Club Footnotes Online – August 2014

North Carolina Chapter Sierra Club

Friends,

Last night, the state legislature adjourned and left Raleigh until the 2015 session begins in January. We will have a full review of what happened on environmental issues during the session available in next month’s edition of Footnotes.

For this edition, the spotlight is on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, as well information about the public hearings happening right now as part of the public review of the proposed fracking rules.  As always, thanks for all that you do and we hope to see you at our Wilderness Celebration next month at Morrow Mountain State Park!

Cheers,

You staff at the NC Sierra Club


Coal Ash Legislation Passes

The legislature gave final approval yesterday to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that takes steps forward in regulating coal ash as other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

It’s time for the EPA to finish what North Carolina started to ensure full protection by adopting strong national standards for coal ash to protect every community in the United States. EPA action is needed more than ever to set a national standard and to stop the piecemeal approach to addressing coal ash waste and contamination across the US.

Click here to learn more about the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 and what it means for North Carolina.

coal ash august convio'.jpg

Public Comments Being Accepted Now on Proposed Fracking Rules

Public hearings on the state’s proposed fracking rules started yesterday in Raleigh. And between 400 and 500 people showed up! There are three more public hearings around the state in coming days where you can give your input on ways to strengthen the proposed rules.

Click here for more information including location details and ideas on things to include in your comments!

Fracking Hearing.jpg

Hundreds of people at the Raleigh hearing on Wednesday in Raleigh give a show of hands for those wo think the proposed fracking rules are not adequate.


Wilderness Celebration in the Heart of Carolina

On September 26-27, the NC Sierra Club is hosting a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.  Held at Morrow Mountain State Park, this celebration is centrally located to all North Carolinians wishing to pay respect to past efforts to protect wilderness, as well as to build support to carry on the proud legacy of protecting our wild areas!

Activities include canoeing, hiking, service, birding, fishing, stargazing and a special guided tour of the Kron restoration!

Click here for more event details or to reserve your spot today!

wilderness convio.jpg

Clean Energy for Raleigh

The Capital Group of the NC Sierra will soon be launching its Clean Energy for Raleigh campaign.  This exciting project aims to make it easy and affordable for homeowners, businesses, and tax-exempt entities in Raleigh, NC, to go solar and invest in energy efficiency.

The program was recently featured in a Triangle Business Journal article, in which, Chelsea Barnes of the Capital Group makes a very compelling case for going solar.  Click here to read the article.

Click here to learn more about this program and to find out how you can enroll!

Clean energy Convio.jpg

Wilderness Spotlight: Ellicott Rock

Ellicott Rock is unique among wilderness areas in that it is shared among three states: North Carolina (3,394 acres), Georgia (2,021 acres) and South Carolina (2,859 acres).  The area was designated as wilderness in 1975.  It received its name for the “N G” chiseled in a rock by surveyor Andrew Ellicott in 1811 indicating the point of beginning of the dividing line between North Carolina and Georgia.

Click here to learn more about this wilderness area on the Our Wild NC website!

Ellicott convio.jpg

Upcoming Events and Outings

Fracking Public Hearings (See above for more information)

August 22, 2014 - Wicker Civic Center, Sanford, NC from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

August 25, 2014 - Rockingham County High School, Reidsville, NC from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

September 12, 2014 - Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center- WCU, Cullowhee, NC from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

 

Featured Wilderness Outings

There are two featured wilderness outings coming up!  If all of this talk about celebrating wilderness has you itching to get outside, we have two great opportunities for you!

There’s an overnight backpack and camping outing to Cold Mountain & Shining Rock Wilderness on September 5-7 and a wilderness day hike and car camping in Linville Gorge  on September 6-7.

Click here for details and to see all of our upcoming wilderness events!

 

August 24 - 1:00 p.m. – Kayak With Candidates – Neuse River

The Croatan Sierra club is hosting this short paddle up the Neuse River. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early where Glenburnie Road meets the Neuse River with their own canoe or kayak, paddle, and personal flotation device.  The group will paddle past the marsh islands and up the short cypress-lined creeks on both sides of the river there will be time to discuss water quality issues, especially the impact of the Lee Coal Plant upstream in Goldsboro, which has been leaking toxic chemicals for decades.  Sierra Club lobbyist Cassie Gavin, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper Travis Graves and endorsed General Assembly candidates George Graham, Carr Ipock, and Whit Whitley will be there to answer your questions and concerns about the environment.  You must sign a waiver to participate in this outing.  Bring your own water supply and environmental questions.

For more information and to register, contact Robert Scull at scull1453@gmail.com.

 

August 30 - 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Alpaca Meet & Greet – Chatham County

Come visit an alpaca farm set in the rolling hills of southwest Chatham County and learn about the origin and history of alpacas. Find out why they are called the green livestock and see where your alpaca sweater comes from.The group will visit the animals in their barn as they talk about their basic care and the gentle impact they have on the environment.  Attendees should bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the porch in a relaxed country setting after the tour.

Closed-toed, sturdy shoes are required. Hat and sun protection are advisable. Bring your camera. No pets please. Tour will be held rain or shine. Participation is by advance registration only and is limited to 10 people. Exact meeting location will be provided when registration is confirmed.

To register, please contact Rosmarie: rbrosenbloom@gmail.com

 

September 3, 10, 17, & 24 - 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. – Walking Wednesdays – Durham

Join Sierrans for a fast-paced, mid-week walk on the Al Beuhler Trail. The trail circles the perimeter of the Washington-Duke Golf Course, offering shade, moderate hills, and natural scenery. The leader will set the pace to complete the 3-mile course in 1-hour although you are welcome to go your own pace and do as many laps as you would like. Standard Sierra Club waiver applies.

Click here for more information.

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Sierra Club NC Chapter Legislative Update 8-15-14

Protect Enviro Democracy

Hello Friends,

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.

The End?
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
cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org

Urgent Action Alert – Please ask your House representative to vote to not concur on S 734

Hello Friends,

It may be the last day of the NC legislative short session and, as is tradition, a lengthy “regulatory reform” bill was passed by the Senate – S 734. The bill has a few good provisions but many bad provisions that are giveaways to regulated industry and bad news for the environment.  Please contact your House representative and ask them to vote to “not concur” on this bill (S 734) because of the negative environmental impacts.

Contact info for House members is here:

http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/members/memberList.pl?sChamber=House

To determine who represents you go here:

http://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx

More info:

Renting out state parks to private interests:  Speed limit waiver in state parks and forests.  Allows any person to petition DENR to waive the standard 25 mph speed limit in a state park or forest for a special event.  This is the only obstacle to the Division of State Parks, for the first time, issuing a permit for exclusive use of the main attraction of a state park for private purposes (and specifically, for car races to the summit).  This measure was sought by political backers of Gov McCrory.

Weaken protection for wetlands:  Nearly eliminates 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 in eastern NC (1 acre). The threshold for eastern NC is currently 1/3 acre. Also reduces mitigation required for impacts to isolated wetlands statewide. Overall this provision is a negative for water quality – isolated wetlands are important for flood control, groundwater recharge and habitat.

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.

Thank you,

Cassie


Cassie Gavin, Director of Government Relations
Sierra Club – NC Chapter
cassie.gavin@sierraclub.org