At a public hearing of the Environmental Review Commission on Wednesday dozens of concerned citizens waited through hours of political posturing to make their comments to lawmakers. While the GOP representatives tried to place blame rather than solve the problem a frustrated public sat waiting. When finally they were allowed to speak they overwhelmingly demanded funding now and an end to the political football. The meeting ended with no action, just put off again. How much longer must the people of Eastern North Carolina wait for clean water?
“You, you, you, you — all of you had a hand in this,” said Daniel Zielinski, a Wilmington resident by way of Chicago.
Billed as an “investigative hearing,” the public ERC meeting was held in Wilmington, where the emerging, unregulated contaminant was first detected at the Sweeney water treatment plant. Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, is responsible for discharging the chemical compound into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for Wilmington and several communities downstream. The company has stopped discharging GenX as of mid-July.
Over nearly four hours, with more than 100 members of the public in the audience, lawmakers seemed bewildered. “Why is industry allowed to keep health study data proprietary?” Sen. Dan Bishop asked, apparently not realizing that the legislature approved $1.3 million for a company to hide its full ingredient list of chemicals it plans to put in Jordan Lake.
They then moved on to skepticism. Sen. Brent Jackson told Secretary of the Environment Michael Regan: “You have a budget, with federal and state money, of $200 million. The governor’s request is $2.5 million. You can’t find that amount?” Apparently, Jackson did not remember lawmakers’ cutting the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s budget by millions of dollars over the past six years — $1.9 million this year alone.
Nor did lawmakers ask to speak with Tom Reeder, former director of Division of Water Resources and Assistant Secretary for Environmental Protection. It was in the latter role that he was copied on an email in November 2016 alerting him and DWR to problems with GenX in drinking water. Reeder is easy to find. He’s now a policy advisor to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Despite citizens’ pleading to grant the request, lawmakers still balked at approving Gov. Roy Cooper’s $2.58 million ask for the NC Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services to address the GenX and other as-yet-unknown drinking water contaminants.
“Most of you have voted to cut environmental laws and funding,” said Darlene Sargeant of Wilmington. “The real reason for any legislative action is for coddling industry. You gut these programs to help companies increase their profits.