Amended legislation now heads back to House
RALEIGH — Despite the continued objections of state Senate Democrats, a GenX bill spearheaded by a New Hanover County Republican cleared the chamber on Friday.
Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, crafted a substitute bill that allocated $2.4 million to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), largely to be used to conduct a review of its administration of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program since 1975.
Crucially, Lee amended his own bill so that $813,000 of $2.4 million appropriated to DEQ can be used for the collection of air and water quality samples and to address a much-discussed 40 percent backlog in NPDES permits.
“This will get us into the short session so we can evaluate that further, so we can see how this plays out,” Lee said.
Democrats, particularly Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Rocky Mount, expressed concerns about the funding. “It should, Bryant said, “be a permanent fix.”
“You know it is not going to be easy or helpful to get the best staff needed for this issue with a non-recurring (fund) of $800,000 that we could clearly make recurring,” Bryant said, adding she also had concerns about “outsourcing” any work to the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, helmed by a former assistant secretary for natural resources at the then-N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The collaboratory is a Legislature-founded program designed to use university assets to aid government decisions, largely relating to environmental matters. The project’s research director is a former science advisor to Sen. President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Additionally, the Senate bill calls for DEQ to work with the collaboratory to coordinate the use of mass spectrometers to test for the presence of GenX and other contaminants should the EPA be unable to continue providing the service.
The House bill had called for funding for the purchase of and staff to equip a mass spectrometer at DEQ.
“It’s one thing to be able to utilize mass spectrometers of other institutions or entities, but it would be better if the state would allow for DEQ to acquire its own because with it’s own equipment, it would really be able to engage in the kind of quality analysis that’s needed,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham.
Lee said he is confident that staff at UNC system schools will have the expertise to run the equipment while also providing a cost-effective approach.
“If we keep heading down the path of providing equipment to the relevant agencies when we already have it at all the system schools,” Lee said, “we’ll be spending millions and millions of dollars to purchase equipment.”
Another amendment, by Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, called for the N.C. Policy Corroboratory to use models to predict which wells could be contaminated by the GenX emanating from air stacks at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility.
“During the community meetings and neighborhood meetings, it was discussed in detail that residents were concerned not only about their well waters, their filtration systems, but also what is being discharged into the air,” Meredith said.
The bill will now return to the House.
Reporter Adam Wagner can be reached at 910-343-2389 or Adam.Wagner@GateHouseMedia.com.