Friday, July 21, 2006

Enviornmental Issues 7-21-06

There was a lot of activity this week on the environmental front, both good and bad. SB1564(I sponsored the House version of this), which would require public notification and identification of a proposed landfill site before a local government could award a solid waste franchise agreement, passed the House on second reading yesterday. This bill is meant to give the public more notice and more opportunity to weigh in before a new landfill is sited in their community. This is particularly important as NC is moving toward becoming a net importer of trash as it considers proposals for several mega dumps, anticipating importing at least 7 million additional tons of trash annually from all over the country. We will become the 4th largest trash importer in the US. Many are concerned about this and last week, the Senate unanimously passed HB1093, which would impose an 18 month moratorium on new landfills in NC. The measure was sent to the House Rules Committee, and while a majority or House members support the landfill moratorium, it is uncertain whether we will be able to vote on the measure, which is quite frustrating.

Another positive outcome is the passage of a provision in SB1587, which establishes an emergency drinking water supply fund, based on legislation (HB2186) which I introduced earlier this year. The money would go to provide notice and funds for emergency drinking water to residents who get drinking water from private wells (more than 2.7 million North Carolinians) near known contaminated hot spots. The bill is headed to the Governor for his signature.

SB1587 also contains a troubling provision, based on HB2884, which would exempt Duke Energy from any federal review that might require stronger pollution controls for the new boilers it intends to build at its Cliffside plant in Rutherford County. It is anticipated that, as a result, the plant might emit an additional 3000 tons of sulphur dioxide annually. This is unfortunate since North Carolina has made great strides in cleaning up our air.

Other positive legislation includes HB1523, which raises the cap on penalties for violations of the Coastal Area Management Act, passed the House on second reading on Thursday. Heretofore, it has been much cheaper to break the law than to comply with it. SB2051, The Energy Independence Act, was voted out of committee and will be on the House floor on Monday evening. This bill encourages energy efficiency in state buildings, a plan to achieve a 20% reduction in fuel usage by state fleets, a biofuels strategic plan, and energy assistance for low income households. Finally SB1566, the result of extensive stakeholder negotiation, which would requires stormwater protection in most, but not all, rapidly growing counties, passed the House on second reading Thursday.

On a less positive note, SB1862 came back to the House for concurrence in an even worse form. This bill allows developers in the nutrient sensitive river basins of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico, to build near streams if they pay for the cost of restoration and mitigation elsewhere in the river basins. The fees proposed in the bill are woefully inadequate ($11 per pound of nitrogen pollution). An EMC rule proposed setting them more in line with the true cost of restoration ($57 per pound of nitrogen, and adding a second category of $45 per tenth of a pound of phosphorus in the Tar-Pam). This bill takes both back to $11, with no relationship to the true cost of damage done to the river basin.

Finally, HB1778/SB927, a terrible bill opposed by the environmental community, public health advocates, and the Governor, relates to the cleaning up of contaminated sites. The potential loss of the groundwater resource is completely omitted in this bill, a troubling notion as the state's population continues to grow. The bill was voted out of House Environment earlier in the week, despite strong opposition, but ran into much resistance in House Finance. It may resurface this week in another form.

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