Conservation Insider Bulletin: June 20, 2016
Multiple bills to gnaw away more environmental protections crawled out of the legislative woodwork, plus more news, this week in CIB:
Legislative Watch: Attacks Broaden Against Clean Water and Land Quality Laws
Multiple bills to slash North Carolina’s clean water, air and land protection laws are being pushed forward in the General Assembly.
HB 169, “Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016”: The NC Senate last week approved legislation to eliminate North Carolina’s electronics recycling program and further gut the ability of state environmental boards to protect clean air and water. These damaging provisions are contained in HB 169, “Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016”. Conservationists targeted this bill for a hard lobbying effort in opposition and were rewarded with strong and well-informed debate on the floor, but anti-environmental votes prevailed 30-15. The bill has gone to the House for deliberation.
HB 169’s biggest problem provisions include these:
1) It would end North Carolina’s electronics recycling program, allowing old equipment with dangerous heavy metals to end up back in landfills.
2) It would block state regulatory boards and agencies, including the Environmental Management Commission (EMC), from enacting rules which would cost more than $100 million over five years. There is no exception for public health protections, environmental emergencies, requirements of federal or state law or courts, or findings of net benefits. It’s an absolute bar which under state fiscal calculation rules is practically assured of clashing with federal clean air and water programs that states like North Carolina have been allowed to manage and enforce.
HB 593, “Amend Environmental and Other Laws”, popped out of Senate committee with 14 pages of newly written material with minimal notice to the committee members and multiple questions left unanswered during initial committee discussion. Provisions would affect stream impact mitigation requirements and waste disposal rules, among other matters. (One provision would double the amount of linear stream impact allowed without mitigation.) However, it was later returned to committee— a well-advised move.
SB 770, “The Farm Act”, would exempt agricultural operations from water withdrawal limits in limited-capacity basins and horticultural operations from sedimentation control requirements. On several fronts, the Senate is working to giveth to favored special economic interests and taketh away from environmental protections for the public at large. All of these late-session rules-slashing moves are carried out with minimal public notice and no transparent development process, unlike the extensive procedural requirements imposed on regular administrative rule-making.
Of course, the Senate doesn’t favor de-regulating everyone. As we see in our next item, if you’re a renewable energy development that may compete with coal, gas, or nuclear power, you’re in line for a regulatory whipping.
Coast Watch: Blocking the Wind
After years of continuing efforts to undercut solar energy development, some members of the NC Senate are ready to block wind energy as well. Last week, the Senate approved on an initial vote HB 763, the so-called “Military Operations Protection Act”, which would give the NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) veto power over any wind energy development, even if the U.S. Department of Defense and federal regulators found no conflict between the wind turbines and flight operations. The bill also included a map of supposed conflict zones (approved by the state’s DMVA rather than any of the normal aviation regulatory bodies) that could knock out two major wind energy projects already under development. Wind energy and rural economic development advocates argued against the bill both in committee and on the floor. While it passed its initial vote, the final Senate vote was delayed to this week in order to permit further negotiations.
On the flip side, last week a state administrative law judge denied a challenge to the Amazon Wind Farm project in Perquimans County, allowing it to continue construction. The challengers asserted that changes to the project were enough to lose its exemption to new permitting requirements adopted by the state after it was initially approved. The judge concluded that the changes were insufficient to do so.
Judicial Watch: Supreme Court Rejects Another Air Toxics Appeal
The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear another request by some states and business interests to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2012 mercury and air toxics rule for coal-fired power plants. This rule, supported by environmental advocates as a step forward in cleaning up air pollution from coal plants, had already bounced between the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals twice on various procedural/technical grounds. This latest rejection by the Supreme Court may close the door on continuing challenges to the rule, which has gone into effect.
Environmental Defense Fund general counsel Vicki Patton said, “Today, millions of American families and children can breathe easier knowing that these life-saving limits on toxic pollution are intact.”
Conservationists: Stein Headlines NCLCV event
NCLCV will kick off its efforts to impact the general election with an important event this Wednesday evening.
Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake), Democratic nominee for NC Attorney General, will be the featured guest at an event for NCLCV this Wednesday evening, June 22, in Raleigh. Stein was named the 2016 “Defender of the Environment” at the Green Tie Awards last month for his pro-environment work in the General Assembly.
Other conservationists and pro-environment candidates will take part in the June 22 reception as well. Tickets for the event are still available. For details, see here.
Conservationists: Everett Bowman
Everett Bowman receiving NCLCV’s 2014 Catalyst AwardEverett Bowman, a strong environmental advocate and friend of NCLCV, passed away last week at his home in Charlotte. A generous supporter of land conservation efforts from the Appalachians to the Atlantic, he was recognized just last year as the Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year by the NC Land Trust. NCLCV members and leaders send our sympathy to his family, along with our gratitude for his dedication to protecting our green land today and for future generations.
That’s our report for this week.