Citizens Showed Up - Did the Environmental Review Commission Listen?

North Carolina's Environmental Review Commission held a four-hour meeting yesterday in Wilmington to an over-packed house; (about 45 citizens were not able to get in for much of it).

It's clear that everyone in attendance, including citizens, the commission and local leaders want the same thing: clean water.  It's also clear that our elected leaders don't yet agree on how to go about getting it. We recognize that, unfortunately, approval of the funding request by DEQ and DHHS falls along party lines, as does the new proposal for funds to be offered instead to CFPUA and UNCW.

Clean Cape Fear has not had an opportunity to understand yet the full intentions of the new proposal to provide fund to CFPUA/UNCW and not DEQ/DHHS. We fully support funding the state's DEQ and DHHS, programs that are vital in protecting the public health and environment for the entire state.  

Commission Chair Sen. Trudy Wade (R) made clear that Sen. Micheal Lee (R), while not a member of the commission, holds authority over it;  by giving him the floor - twice - with no time limit, while citizens, along with New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple - who waited more than 3 hours to speak -- were given just two minutes each at the podium.  

Sen. Lee proposed at the meeting to provide funding to CFPUA and UNCW, stating funds would allow CFPUA to put new filters at the Sweeney facility  -- (which does not service all areas affected by the contamination).   Rep. Deb Butler (D), whose request to be appointed to the commission was denied, noted that the GenX cocktail is not the only pollutant of concern in our waterways now, or in the future.

Sen. Lee shared the personal anguish he and his wife endured having a son born with health issues and how they questioned whether or not the drinking water had anything to do with it. Clean Cape Fear wonders how a filter on the Sweeney facility will help our state to adequately address the current 2-year backlog on permit requests, or help our state monitor current and future corporate polluters to ensure other families don't go through the same anguish. 

Several members of Clean Cape Fear shared their comments, along with a host of other concerned citizens; not one citizen said they approve of Sen. Lee's proposal; nearly every citizen requested the commission support the emergency funding request for DEQ and DHHS. Watch the entire meeting on our FB page.

Directly after hearing the citizens' comments, Chairwoman Wade invited Sen. Lee to the podium, yet again, so he could reiterate his request for CFPUA/UNCW funding, to which the committee then approved of a motion to move forward with the request.  Sen. Smith-Ingram then requested a motion to consider the funding request for DEQ/DHHS, which Chairwoman Wade denied, stating that the Commission would meet again in September to discuss the state's request.

Why is Sen. Lee proposing to use tax dollars to fund a single county's utility?
Why is the Environmental Review Commission seemingly set to approve this without any details given?
How is a filter at the Sweeney plant going to ensure permitting and monitoring of other corporate polluters in our state's 300,000 miles of waters? 

We wondered if Sen. Lee's proposal has anything to do with this request, made by a well-funded lobby whose interests lie in supporting corporations over environmental and public health. 

Review of the funding request by DHHS and DEQ

  • DHHS asked for $530,839 to hire four staff members.
    • DHHS has ONE toxicologist; North Carolina has 300,000 miles of water.
  • DEQ asked for $2,049,569 to hire 15 staff members; DEQ has experienced, since 2011 (data provided by the SmithEnvironment Blog):
    • 18% Percentage reduction in water quality and water resources staff and 41% Percentage reduction in water quality/water resources staff in DEQ regional offices, leading to a 2-year backlog on permit request responses, leaving 42% of industrial discharge and 34% of major municipal permits at expired status (meaning corporations are free to do what they want until the permits are responded to) 
    • 45% Percentage reduction in state sedimentation program, responsible for monitoring 12,000 construction sites) staff since 2008 causing a reduction in site visits to a frequency, on average, of 12-14 months
    • 20% Reduction in Division of Coastal Management staff since 2010
    • 40% Reduction in core Division of Marine Fisheries staff since 2011
    • 27.9 Administrative positions eliminated department-wide since 2015
    • 3 Programs or services entirely eliminated through budget cuts since 2009: the Neuse River Rapid Response Team (provided response to fish kills and pollution incidents in the Neuse River); the Office of Environmental Education; and the Division of Water Quality’s well drilling team (drilled monitoring wells used to investigate groundwater quality/quantity).

ACTION ITEMS: 

  1. Sign this petition requesting funding request to DEQ and DHHS be approved.
  2. Call Rep. Butler at 919-733-5754 and thank her for being the only legislator yet to approve of the emergency funding for DEQ/DHHS.
  3. Call Sen. Smith-Ingram at (919) 715-3040 and thank her for being the only member of the Environmental Review Commission who asked the commission to further a motion to approve emergency funding requested by DEQ and DHHS.
Dana SargentComment