RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper is seeking $14.5 million in funding for state environmental and health regulatory agencies, money he says is needed to protect North Carolina residents from the health and safety threats of emerging contaminants including GenX.
Cooper’s office announced his budget recommendations Tuesday in advance of the North Carolina General Assembly’s short session that begins May 16.
“Protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe is critical, and my budget recommendations will give state agencies the tools they need to continue keeping North Carolina families healthy,” Cooper said in the announcement. “Our administration has taken strong action to hold polluters accountable, but we need meaningful investments in water testing, permitting, and scientific analysis to protect our environment statewide.”
Cooper’s budget will recommend funding for the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services at the following levels:
- Water Quality and Sampling: $7 million – Cooper said this funding will allow DEQ to collect and analyze data that can be used to make informed decisions about managing perfluorinated compounds, as well as addressing the 40 percent backlog in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit renewals. Specifically, the funds will support 39 new full-time employees to conduct surface water, pore water and water supply well sampling and analysis across the state, as well as identify potential sources of contamination in groundwater, surface water, wastewater, soil and sediment. The money would also allow the Division of Air Quality to conduct a rainwater collection and scientifically analyze potential air pollutants across the state to characterize emerging compounds and understand the components in water that may come from air pollution deposits.
- Funding Scientific Equipment and Laboratory Analysis: $1 million – Cooper said this equipment will help DEQ to quickly and affordably test the threat to public health and safety resulting from discharges of emerging compounds. This request includes six new full-time employees dedicated to using this equipment and processing samples.
- DEQ Modernization: $4.4 million – Cooper said that to better protect the environment without slowing economic growth, the state’s industrial permitting process must be overhauled and streamlined.
- Planning for Needed Facility Upgrades: $1.5 million – Cooper said DEQ needs this money to plan for needed upgrades to its Central Laboratory. The Reedy Creek Laboratory performs analysis for water quality, water resources and air quality. It was built in 1991 and has not undergone a substantial renovation.
- Additional Health Experts in Environmental Epidemiology: $536,000 – Cooper said this money is needed for DHHS to hire additional health experts to identify and prevent adverse health effects from toxic substances. Experts would include a medical consultant to serve as a medical risk assessor, a doctorate-level environmental toxicologist, a public health educator and a public health epidemiologist.
Cooper noted that DEQ has taken action to hold Chemours accountable for GenX pollution in the Cape Fear River and in the air, despite major legislative cuts to the agency. Since 2013, DEQ has seen 77 positions eliminated from water quality and water resources, and a 45 percent reduction in water quality and water resources permitting, enforcement and compliance staff that Cooper said has contributed to the permitting backlog. The governor offered for comparison that North Carolina has 60 more water discharge facilities than South Carolina and 147 more discharge facilities than Kentucky, but each of those states has almost twice as many permit writers.
“Budgets are about priorities, and our budget request shows that our number one priority is the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan in the release. “We cannot do our job to the best of our ability without the technology and staff to actively monitor pollution in our state. We ask that the legislature partner with us to adequately fund DEQ for the first time in nearly a decade.”
“This budget request strengthens our ability to protect the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “We need specialized staff to continue to address emerging trends and support our mission.”