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GenX

Analysis of Proposed GenX Legislation

May 17, 2018 - After a year of waiting, our representatives in the General Assembly finally managed to put together a couple of somewhat serious legislative proposals to deal with the GenX crisis. Democrat representative Deb Butler (District 18) and 3 other Democratic House members started the day by submitting HB 968. Not to be outmaneuvered, Republican Ted Davis, Jr. (My opponent in House District 19) and 3 other Republican General Assembly members finished the day by submitting HB 972. After carefully reviewing each proposed bill, I can honestly say that both respective plans are fundamentally flawed.

While the Democratic proposal is flawed, the Republican plan is by far the most inferior. Here are the key components of the GOP plan:

  1. Empowers the Governor to shut down corporate offenders if DEQ is unable to get the company to stop dischargining contaminants

    Problem is that the DEQ must attempt to get the company to comply for a full year before the Governor is allowed to take action. This does nothing to empower or transform DEQ into an agency with "teeth."

  2. Requires that the offending company pay for alternative water sources for those individuals whose private wells have been contaiminated with GenX.

    Taxpayers still have to pay for the replacement water supply. DEQ is allowed to send an invoice to the offending company for reimbursement. However, if the company refuses to pay, a lawsuit will need to be filed.

  3. Appropriates $2 million of non-recurring taxpayer money to go to local governments to conduct testing on ways to treat or filter GenX contaminated water.

    Shouldn't Chemours be paying for tests on how to treat the contaminated water they created!?

  4. Appropriates $8 million of non-recurring taxpayer money to go the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC Chapel Hill to pay for ongoing tests for emerging contaminants

    If UNC (and not DEQ) is going to be responsible for figuring out what new contaminants are dangerous, shouldn't they have an annual budget?

  5. Requires corporations who apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to identify all pollutants they will be discharging, and not just ones that are currently identified as a health risk.

    While this offers some transparency, we should be elminating "poison permits" altogether! Unless a discharged chemical has been proven to be safe, it shouldn't be allowed to be discharged.

  6. Instructs DEQ to formulate a cleanup plan and appropriates one-time funds to this end.

    If DEQ really has no idea how to clean this up by now, then we should probably contract this job out to a private organization that does! Again, nothing in this plan forces Chemours to pay for any cleanup efforts.

The Democratic plan has a couple of things going for it. Here is an outline of their proposal:

  1. Repeals the Hardison Amendment. This law was passed by the GOP run General Assembly and basically states that NC is prohibited from having more stringent environmental protections than the EPA.

    Republicans are supposed to believe in State's Rights, so its bewildering that this was passed in the first place.

  2. Like the GOP plan, this requires that corporations who apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit identify all pollutants they will be discharging, and not just ones that are currently identified as a health risk. However, it also mandates that the most stringent discharge standard available must be used.

    This is better, but we should be elminating "poison permits" altogether! Unless a discharged chemical has been proven to be safe, it shouldn't be allowed to be discharged.

  3. This proposal actually gives DEQ some authority to act. After conducting an investigation, DEQ would have the authority to force offending companies to comply and to pay for all costs.

    Unfortunately, the language sounds tough, but if the company refuses to comply, DEQ will end up having to go to Court. DEQ would not be allowed to shut down a plant unless there was an imminent health danger. Many times it take years for the symptoms of chemical poisoning to appear. While a Court case is dragging on, taxpayers are still out money and, more importantly, our health will still be negatively affected.

  4. This plan attempts to increase the overall effectiveness of DEQ to determine the threat of emerging contaminants by granting it $7 million in recurring funding for new positions within the department.

    I am not opposed to a decent operating budget, but DEQ better know what they are doing before we invest more taxpayer money into that agency. Perhaps hiring a private organization that already knows how to do the job would make more sense for now.

There are two basic things missing by both plans. First, neither plan grants DEQ (or any other agency) with adequate power. DEQ needs the power to make polluting companies stop polluting immediately. DEQ needs the power to force companies to immediately pay for the damage they have done. Companies should be allowed their day in Court, but DEQ (or its equivalent) should have the power to act switftly and decisively in defense of public health. I liken it to a health inspector who inspects a restaurant. If they discover levels of ecoli, the inspector is going to immediately shut that restaurant down and make them pay. They aren't going to have to wait years for a long legal battle to conclude in our Courts. DEQ (or its equivalent) should be vested with similar powers.

Secondly, both plans fail to get rid of the system of "poison permits." The public should not have to endure years of exposure to hazardous chemicals while scientists take a decade or more doing tests and clinical studies. Rather, a company should not be allowed to dump anything (at any level) which has not been proven to be entirely safe. For more information, please visit my GenX Position page.

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