Legislators in Raleigh after learning of high levels of toxic GenX in the Cape Fear River and now in the well waters around the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, offered a pitiful amount of money to a local water utility as well as rolling back environmental protections which included repealing the plastic bag ban. This bill in no way addresses the real problems, our regulatory agencies have the authority to stop polluters, local water utilities have none. Nor can local water utilities do anything about the ground water. The bill offered by Republicans in Raleigh is no solution, we must fund the watchdog agencies and stop with political games.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 56 last week, a measure that contained a host of environmental measures, many of them weakening our state’s already-inadequate environmental protections. It included a repeal of the controversial ban on plastic grocery bags on the Outer Banks, a law that has helped dramatically reduce litter there and saved the lives of many aquatic animals that die when they ingest or get entangled in the bags. It was terrible work that richly deserved the veto.
Legislative leaders blasted Cooper for the action, because the bill also provided $436,000 to fund monitoring and research into GenX, the chemical that has leaked or been dumped into the river from the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line. “Shame on Gov. Cooper for vetoing a local solution,” Senate leader Phil Berger said, arguing that Cooper did it because “it did not achieve his preferred objective of growing a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis.” House Speaker Tim Moore struck a similar note.
Trouble is, the $436,000 is a pittance compared with the work that needs to be done on the Cape Fear. The appropriation was another legislative slap at the governor, funding research by UNC-Wilmington and by the Wilmington area’s public water utility. But it didn’t provide a penny to bolster the much needed work of the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, which are responsible for solving the problem. Cooper had sought $2.6 million to hire scientists and engineers, as well as equipment, to monitor the chemicals flowing through a 100-mile stretch of the river.
Even as Berger was bloviating, GenX was found in private wells around the Chemours plant and researchers were looking into the possibility that the chemical that causes cancer in animals may have been emitted into the air around the plant as well. Funding research in Wilmington isn’t going to do a thing about these emerging problems.
Nor is this going to help a profoundly understaffed environmental regulatory agency that should have long ago found the source of the carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane that has been found in Cape Fear water for years. It appears to be coming from somewhere in the Greensboro area, which means some water supplies in the Triangle area are contaminated by it too. None of our public utilities have the equipment to filter it out of our drinking water, no more than the filter on my fridge can do it. The American Rivers group wasn’t wrong when it put the Cape Fear on its 10 most endangered rivers list this year. It got that way because we have neither the laws nor the regulatory staff to protect the rivers that provide water to most of this state’s residents.
In his blast at the governor, Speaker Moore said, “The GenX crisis is decades in the making due to the failure of state agencies — spanning multiple, bipartisan administrations back to the 1980s — to properly regulate clean water resources for North Carolina.” He’s right. But he’s neglecting something important: He owns the crisis now, just as he owns the pitiful response that is House Bill 56. You don’t fix the “failure of state agencies” by refusing to fund them. You give them the tools they need — and the oversight, too — and tell them to make our public water supplies safe and clean.
Playing politics with our health and safety is dereliction of duty.