By Dan Besse
Once again the eerie echoes from an old Poltergeist sequel whisper across our state capital, as the NC General Assembly begins its 2016 budget “short session” in Raleigh this evening.
As reported last week in CIB, worries to watch for include legislation recommended by the Environmental Review Commission (ERC) that would roll back state agency authority to warn the public about identified toxic content risks in wells and public drinking water supplies. State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), a member of the ERC, commented, “Against my objections, the ERC moved forward a bill that prohibits health advisories from being issued for water contaminants unless federal or interim state standards have been established. Hexavalent chromium [a key contaminant of many wells tested near Duke coal ash pits] has neither.”
Other issues of concern to monitor include the following:
Another ERC-recommended bill could restrict the state’s environmental regulators from requiring on-site stormwater management controls to protect sensitive waters in many permit cases.
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Donald van der Vaart is leading the charge to convert a key state tool for promoting clean renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind) into another subsidy for nuclear power plants that produce deadly radioactive wastes. Other attacks on the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) are possible. Van der Vaart also proposes to add state permitting and bonding requirements for solar farms, which would raise costs, create delays, and reduce their competitiveness margins against dirty energy sources.
Observers expect an effort to expand the SolarBee water mixers boondoggle from Jordan Lake to Falls Lake as well, using it as an excuse to delay implementation of the genuine cleanup plan rules for that lake. Studies of the SolarBees have thus far found them to have no positive impact on water quality.
We await the introduction of bills beginning this evening, and we will cover the session starting with online alerts this week or an update in next Monday’s regular edition of CIB.
Administration Watch: Water Quality Expert Booted After Report on SolarBees
The former head of the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC) Water Quality Committee has been removed as chair of that committee. The removal followed his criticism of a decision by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to yank back the report showing that the SolarBee water mixers were doing nothing to improve water quality in Jordan Lake.
As noted in the Legislative Watch item above, the state’s own expert analysis showed that the SolarBee devices weren’t working. Yet after that report was published, it was retracted by DEQ before the EMC Water Quality Committee could take it up for discussion. The then-chair of the Water Quality Committee, Steve Tedder, questioned that retraction. Now Tedder has been booted from his role.
Tedder has suggested that the motives for the change appear political, and one of his colleagues has resigned from his own committee chair position in protest. The EMC chair, Steve Rowlan, asserts that the move was unrelated to the report retraction and Tedder’s criticisms. Environmental advocates—and a key legislator—interviewed for the article agree that the sequence of events makes the move look questionable.
The EMC is the state environmental agency’s rulemaking board, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. While diminished in its legal and political clout under the current administration, it remains an important potential watchdog group. That is, it can be that so long as its members are not silenced for raising alarms about apparent scientific funny business in the processes of state environmental decision-making.
Chairs of the EMC’s policy area committees are named by the overall chair of the EMC. However, the chair of the EMC itself is named by the governor and serves in that role at the governor’s pleasure. In practice, designation of the committee chairs has been made in consultation with the governor’s DEQ secretary, and that practice appears to have been followed in this case.
Tedder is a 37-year veteran of the state environmental agency and expert on water quality issues, who is now retired from state service. He hasn’t always been in agreement with environmental advocates on regulatory issues, but he does know his science. Unfortunately, objective science does not appear to be in the highest demand by current DEQ leadership.
You can find more of Councilman Besse’s writing for the North Carolina League of conservation Voters HERE.
Dan Besse is an attorney and has served on City Council since 2001. In addition to his direct work for Winston-Salem residents as a Councilman, Dan has provided more than 20 years of service at the state level helping to shape NC’s environmental and public health policies, including numerous appointments: NC Climate Action Plan Advisory Committee, NC Environmental Management Commission, NC Sedimentation Control Commission, NC Coastal Resources Commission, and the NC Emergency Response Commissions.