Today HB 765 passed its 2nd Reading. It started out as a simple one page bill about gravel transportation and passed the House 115-1.
Then it entered the Senate in which the Republicans added 50 pages of provisions that weaken environmental regulations in North Carolina. DENR wrote a letter to the Senate speaking out against it. The NC Chapter for Sierra Club compiled a great summary about the objections.
The Senate Majority did run amendments to remove some parts of the bill. Democrats tried to also run amendments to address all the concerns that were not removed, but they were all blocked.
Here are some highlights that remained in the bill:
Attorney Fees & Penalities
- Would require the state to recover “reasonable” attorneys’ fees any time it was the prevailing party in a case dealing with environmental impact or the construction of transportation infrastructure
- Broadly applied immunity for environmental violations undercut the effectiveness of penalties and fines as a deterrent to future violations, because the polluter can always avoid the penalty by “confessing”
- It will limit the ability of DENR to protect the state’s water quality and reduce flooding by limiting the scope of state regulated wetlands to only a Basin Wetland or Bog as defined in the NC Wetland Assessment User Manual.
- It is important to note that many wetlands that appear isolated from surface waters are actually vital components of regional water systems, since they recharge local and regional aquifers. A true test to determine if a wetland is “isolated” would be to verify that there is no connection to groundwater
- Wetland Facts:
- A single acre of wetlands can store almost 1 million gallons of water reducing the damage caused by flooding and infiltrating that water into groundwater.
- Wetlands retain most of the chemicals entering them and serve an important role in water quality, pollution abatement, and the process of cycling of nitrogen, sulfur, methane and carbon dioxide.
Air Quality Control
- Would require the Div. of Air Quality to remove air quality monitors not required by EPA. The provision would significantly reduce the number of state monitors used to assess air quality and demonstrate compliance with federal ambient air quality standards. DENR has opposed this in the past; additional monitors have actually helped the state demonstrate attainment of air quality standards and limit the size of nonattainment areas in the past
- Please note that this is a repeat of the General Assembly’s failed attempt in 2014 to shut down approximately half of the air quality monitors in North Carolina. This provision failed in 2014 for good reason: it would eliminate much of the monitoring of dangerous air pollution that North Carolinians breathe, causing premature death and worsening many serious illnesses like asthma in children.
- Without these monitors, the public and the N.C. Division of Air Quality will be kept in the dark about increases in pollution, which is especially concerning since many of these monitors are located in areas with historically poor air quality.