Thursday, August 23, 2007


A new law allows existing hog waste lagoons to continue to operate, but bans the construction of new ones. Hog lagoons have become an environmental concern in the past decade as the number of swine farms have grown. The pits, where the hogs' waste is collected and then sprayed on fields as fertilizer, often breach their banks during hurricanes or heavy rains, polluting waterways and soil and contaminating the groundwater. The state has had a moratorium on new lagoons for the past 10 years, but replacing them with new, cleaner technology is expensive. The bill, Senate Bill 1465, (I co-sponsored the house companion, House Bill 1115), signed into law, proposes a $2 million a year cost-sharing program to help farmers pay the cost of replacing the pits with more environmentally friendly systems. The new systems could produce useful byproducts such as compost or electricity from the methane gas released. The law includes a provision that allows up to 50 swine farms to join a pilot program that will allow farmers to sell methane gas to power companies. The compromise bill is supported by farm, industry, and some environmental groups and would represent a major step forward after years of trying to find better ways to handle hog waste. The neighbors of the offending hog farms are upset that we have not done more to phase out the lagoons by a date certain. Representative Earl Jones and I introduced House Bill 1822, to phase out lagoons and sprayfield systems, but it had no traction this session.

The state improved the process for transferring water from one water basin to another by requiring more public hearings, a study of the environmental impact of the transfer, and granting the Environmental Management Commission authority to appoint a mediator to settle differences between applicants and other parties. The bill, House Bill 820, has passed both chambers and awaits the signature of Governor Easley.

We established a new category of present use value to help preserve working waterfronts. Senate Bill 646 promotes traditional coastal uses in the face of rampant coastal development by allowing piers and fish houses to get the lower "present use value" tax rate, creates an advisory committee on working waterfront access, directs DOT to consider access issues, raises boating fees, and waives emergency CAMA permit fees.

The House provided funding for the hiring of seven new sediment and erosion control inspectors to help with North Carolina's top water quality problem - sediment. We also set aside $615,000 for private well testing, notification, and emergency drinking water supplies for low income residents with contaminated drinking water. These have both been priorities of mine for the past three sessions.

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