RALEIGH — On the heels of this week’s budget deal a handful of remaining environmental laws moved through the N.C. General Assembly as lawmakers wrapped up the 2013 session this morning.
Just this week alone, the legislature passed or will do so this morning bills for Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature that:
- Loosen restrictions on terminal groins
- Encourage natural gas exploration inland through hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas development off the state’s coast
- Weaken safeguards on mega-landfills
- Loosen requirements on inter-basin transfers on the coast
- Create a Rube Goldberg-like process to review all state rules
- Make it difficult for local governments to pass environmental ordinances on topics already addressed by state or federal laws
Here’s a look at a few of them.
Rep. Chris Millis
The terminal groin legislation, ratified earlier this week, differs significantly from the one that was first introduced. The new bill retains the cap at four projects and adds back requirements on accountability and financing.
Also among the changes, hammered out by Reps. Chris Millis, R-Pender, and Rick Catlin, R-Hanover, is a much stricter definition of where a terminal groin can be built.
During House debate last week, Millis emphasized that the improvements in the bill mean better accountability, but they are also intended to clear the way for the four projects to get started. He said the 2011 compromise legislation that allowed four terminal groins to be built as pilot projects had put in place so many obstacles that getting them built would be impossible.
The bill’s backers, including its chief sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, said the financial responsibility rules in the 2011 legislation had effectively stopped the projects.
Although all four towns are all moving forward on their plans, none of the four terminal groin projects — Ocean Isle Beach, Figure Eight Island, Bald Head Island and Holden Beach — has yet to apply for a state permit. All are still undergoing federal review.
Catlin, an environmental engineer, said during the House debate that the legislation is tied to reduction in federal funding for beach re-nourishment. “We need to do something and there is a need for this tool,” he said.
The state, he said, has to have alternatives to the current system. “I’ve worked very hard over the last 20 years to move sand around in a friendly way, but here’s no money anymore,” Catlin noted.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, commended Millis and Catlin for improving the bill but said she was still concerned that there were not enough financial protections in place in case the terminal groins cause damage to private or public property. Harrison also said the bill unnecessarily revisits the sea-level rise debate of last year with language that says consideration of sea-level rise in developing inlet-management plans is not required. She said that a government report in 2012 showing a “hot spot” for sea-level rise on the northern part of the coast and new studies that point to acceleration of sea-level rise should be of concern.
“I think we’re in for a big problem if we are constructing these items and not factoring in the sea-level rise aspect,” she said.
Harrison’s amendment to strike the sea-level rise language failed 40-73.
The final version of the bill also includes a provision from legislation introduced earlier this year by Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, that clarifies the right of cities to enforce their ordinances in public trust areas, including oceanside beaches, within their jurisdictions.
The new energy bill encourages drilling off the N.C. coast. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
This week, both chambers passed a conference report on Senate Bill 76. Much of the attention was drawn to a provision that was included in the Senate’s version to put fracking for natural gas on a faster track for permitting. House members, however, were wary because it would have allowed fracking permits to proceed while the state Mining and Energy Commission is still drafting rules. The bill that the legislature passed last year to allow fracking prohibits permits from being issued until the commission drafts rules and the legislature approves them.
The House rejected fast-tracking the permits and the bill that McCrory will likely sign doesn’t include that provision, though the language resurfaced in an unrelated bill in the waning hours of the session. It wasn’t passed before the legislature adjorned.
Getting little notice in the Energy Bill were provisions on offshore drilling. The bill that will land on McCrory desk requires the state to join with Virginia and South Carolina in an offshore energy compact to advocate with the federal government to open up drilling in the Atlantic. No federal leases are planned until 2019.
The bill also creates a $250 million fund for environmental clean ups in event of disasters or spills. The money would come from the state’s share of federal royalties. The federal government, however, doesn’t currently share royalty money with the states.
The offshore provisions drew objections from Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare, who said the risk to the economy of the Outer Banks and other coastal areas were not worth what the state would get in return. Tine said most of the jobs for building the drilling platforms would likely be based out of Norfolk and that a system in which the state would see any revenues from royalties does not yet exist and would require an act of Congress.
In their ongoing war against all rules, Republicans who control the Senate yesterday approved a legislative compromise on House Bill 74, which throws together several different regulatory “reform” bills that appeared in various forms in the legislature this session. The state House is scheduled to take up the bill this morning before it follows the Senate and goes home for the year. The bill that the Senate approved is likely to pass.
It contains more than 60 sections and includes provisions on seemingly everything: frat and sorority houses, billboards, bed and breakfasts, child-care workers, private clubs, licensing boards and even something called “digital dispatching services.”
The most sweeping section of the bill, however, creates a complicated three-tiered plan, involving almost every agency in state government, to review all state rules every 10 years. Those deemed unneeded or obsolete rules would be ditched. Most of needed rules would have to go through the state’s already cumbersome rule-making process that usually takes two years to complete.
The bill also places a one-year moratorium on most environmental ordinances passed by local governments unless they are unanimously approved. During that time, the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission would study the implications of a permanent ban.
The section on landfills removes or weakens many of the safeguards contained in a 2007 bill, though it doesn’t go as far as the original bill passed by the Senate in June. Still, gone are state environmental justice protections and the requirement to clean leachate lines annually. Any new game lands will not have large buffers to protect them, and garbage trucks must now be “leak resistant” instead of “leak proof.”