RALEIGH — The North Carolina Senate approved a bill last night that would end the electronics-recycling program and set a hard financial cap on new regulations.
The bill, H169, which includes measures recycled from bills that failed to win approval in the past, was approved with no further amendments in a 30-15 vote on second reading and by voice vote on third reading.
During debate Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said the bill, called the “Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016,” lacks methodology for establishing the costs of the regulations and said it would likely invite lawsuits as a result.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a member of the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission, said the measure approved Monday includes a number of provisions House members voted against in commission meetings, including ending the state’s electronics recycling program and the repeal of a statewide ban on disposal of televisions, computer equipment and other electronics in landfills.
“It’s a laundry list of terrible provisions,” Harrison said in an interview with Coastal Review Online. “They do this every year.”
The bill now goes to the state House where it faces an uncertain future.
Proponents of the anti-recycling provision argued in commission meetings that the market for recycled equipment had collapsed, particularly for televisions, and that some counties had accumulated a large amount of old televisions that they are unable to get rid of. They also pointed to the fact that most landfills in the state are now lined, reducing the worry over lead, mercury and other contaminants from leaking.
In an analysis of the provision, the Southern Environmental Law Center estimated that the program collected 14,786 tons of electronics from residents and an additional 4,303 tons from manufacturer and retail programs.
Other changes approved Monday set a threshold on the estimated cost of a new rule at $100 million over a five-year period. Any rule change in which the cost to an industry or business exceeds that amount would trigger a requirement for that the rule must be approved by a supermajority of the members of the board or commission making the change.
The provision on environmental rules would also change the current process to allow for more legislative review on any project that has a projected cost of $10 million over five years. Currently, there is no cost threshold, but any environmental rule that receives 10 letters of objection is subject to review by the legislature.
“This opens the door,” said Cassie Gavin, director of government relations with the North Carolina Sierra Club. “It would bring a lot more rules before the legislature.”
Both chambers are working on separate versions of omnibus bills aimed a revising, and in some cases eliminating, a host of state regulations.
In addition to the Senate’s version passed Monday, House committees signed off last week on The Regulatory Reform Act of 2016. Meanwhile, a third bill with changes to environmental policies is said to be waiting in the wings.
The legislature has passed a series of bills under the banner of “regulatory reform” since 2011.
Although the short session is mainly aimed at making adjustments to the state budget, both chambers used a parliamentary procedure to introduce the measures, taking bills passed by one chamber last year and replacing the language in them.
As in previous years the House and Senate versions of this year’s effort have some similarities and many differences. The Senate version features a number of substantial changes to rule-making and environmental policies, while the House approach maintains a more narrowly tailored set of revisions.
Those who keep a close eye on the bills say it is always hard to know what will be in the final version.
Gavin, of the Sierra Club, said the bills are inevitably caught up in the overall negotiations between the chambers.
“There’s a lot of horse trading going on,” Gavin said. “But we know that at the end of the day these bills will end up in the same basket.”
Of the dozens of provisions, what stays in the final version and what gets tossed will likely fall to a conference committee and the leadership in each chamber.
Gavin said that unlike the Senate, the House has stayed away from including heavy shifts in policy, so far.
“The House bill is in pretty good shape,” she said.
Most of the provisions in that bill, Senate Bill 303, are focused on technical changes, although one section rewrites requirements on wind energy projects that would give the state’s Department of Military and Veteran Affairs greater oversight.
The provision grew out of a controversy in 2013 over a proposed wind energy project in Beaufort County that Department of Defense officials said would jeopardize flight training areas for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. In hearings last week, legislators said the state needed a better system for gathering feedback from the military on the effects of wind projects.
The changes would involve the state military affairs department and Defense Department officials early on in any proposed wind energy project and allow the state to sue to stop a project. The rules would also apply to the construction of buildings more than 200 feet in height.
The House bill also includes a provision that requires the state Department of Environmental Quality to conduct another study on the size of riparian buffers for intermittent streams. During hearings prior to the session, House and Senate members of the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission disagreed on changing the buffer requirements after reviewing a study by DEQ mandated by the legislature in 2015.
Harrison said legislators still don’t have enough information on the effects of potential changes.
Harrison, also a former member of the state’s Coastal Resources Commission who has voted against every one of the so-called “regulatory reform” bills, said she’s in support of this year’s approach by the House.
“The House bill is fine,” she said. “The is first time I’ll be voting for a reg reform bill.”
The Senate bill, Harrison said, is another story.
Reports and studies changed
Sections of both bills contain a series of provisions changing annual environmental reporting requirements. Most are aimed at phasing out annual reports or changing how often they are required.
Changes to coastal area reports include requiring an update to legislature on terminal groin projects from each year to every five years and elimination of the biennial report on implementation of the beach and inlet management plan by DEQ. The annual requirement for a report on the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan would end and the report would only be required if there are significant revisions to the plan.
One difference between the two chambers is that the Senate wants to eliminate DEQ’s annual fish kill report. The House dropped that provision from an earlier version of its bill.
“That’s a concern considering all the changes to nutrient management strategies,” Gavin said.
The Senate bill also ends a Division of Coastal Management land- use planning grant program for counties and municipalities under the Coastal Area Management Act as well as a mandate that each county develop a land use plan.
Since the mandate was put in place, all CAMA counties have enacted land-use plans. CAMA requires that local governments certify that projects conform with local land-use plans.
The grant program is mainly used to assist local governments with updating their plans.
This month, DCM issued its latest series of grants. They include a $15,000 grant to Morehead City to assess flooding vulnerability and enhance a city program to assist residents to lower flood insurance premiums. The division also provided $15,000 grants to Edenton, Ocean Isle Beach, Wrightsville Beach and Shalotte to update their plans.
DCM spokesperson Sarah Young declined to comment on the provision ending the grant program citing a policy against commenting on pending legislation.