Green groups urge vetoes for 'death by 1,000 cuts'

jwise@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2012 

A coalition of environmental groups and businesses is pushing for Gov. Bev Perdue to veto three bills that they consider harmful to the state’s water and economic future.

“We refer to these three as ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ ” Molly Diggins, executive director of the N.C. Sierra Club, said Saturday. “They’re just loaded with a whole lot of accommodations for special interests.”

The coalition – called All Three 4 N.C.: Clean Air, Clean Water, Good Jobs” – is asking Perdue to veto:

House Bill 819: Puts off defining rates of sea-level change for regulatory purposes until 2016 and requires update of a 2010 report advising preparation for a 39-inch rise by 2100.

House Bill 953: Delays stormwater-control standards for new development in the Jordan Lake watershed for two years.

Senate Bill 229: Loosens water-quality regulations for compost facilities, airports, development in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins along with 19 other amendments to environmental laws.

“All three of these bills, in the clear light of day, would be hard to justify,” Diggins said.

All Three 4 N.C. is placing newspaper ads encouraging the governor’s veto, including one in Sunday’s News & Observer. Perdue has until Aug. 2 to veto the bills before they become law.

“We do not buy this argument that environmental regulation kills jobs,” said Mary Maclean Asbill, a lobbyist for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill and a spokeswoman for All Three 4 N.C. “North Carolina needs a clean environment.”

Diggins said the three bills are “part of a bigger rollback” of environmental protections and reflect an “anti-science attitude” within the General Assembly’s current leadership.

By mid-July, Perdue’s office said it had received more than 3,400 emails and letters favoring veto. Perdue spokeswoman Chris Mackey said Saturday that she did not have a current figure, but the trend had “absolutely” continued.

“We have received correspondence both for and against the bills,” Mackey said, but she thought the majority has asked for the vetoes.

Knee-deep in ridicule

HB819, the sea-level bill, has received the most notoriety, including ridicule by TV comedians for an initial provision that effectively limited sea-level rise forecasts to 8 inches, based on historical trends rather than climate science.

Diggins said the sea-level bill sends the wrong message to the state’s schoolchildren.

“How are we going to lead, prepare North Carolina children for the future, if the legislature says science ... is a matter of opinion?” she said.

The bill’s proponents argued that acknowledging forecasts for a one-meter rise would discourage development and hurt economies in coastal counties.

Watershed rules

Delay for the Jordan Lake new-development rule appears in both SB229 and HB953, and was part of two other House bills before coming to a vote. Originally set to take effect this summer, the rule would be delayed until 2014 primarily at requests from Greensboro.

“To me, it’s just outrageous,” said Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly. The Haw is Jordan Lake’s primary tributary, but the rule applies throughout the reservoir’s watershed.

State Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, said he introduced the delay request on behalf of the Greensboro City Council. Its members felt the city needed more time to prepare its ordinance to comply with the rule.

The rule is part of a package legislators approved in 2009 to bring Jordan Lake’s water-quality into compliance with state and federal standards. Jordan Lake supplies drinking water for about 450,000 residents of Cary, Apex and Chatham County.

“Greensboro may be the only city that doesn’t have their stormwater ordinance in place,” Chiosso said. “There’s going to have to be a reduction in pollution, so if we allow developers to use the old regulations for two more years, then ... it’s going to be on the backs of the taxpayers to do something about it,” she said.

Other issues

There is one other bill remaining on the governor’s desk from the two-year session that concluded in early July: House Bill 585, which would exempt newer vehicles from annual emissions inspections.

On Friday, Perdue announced she would return a bill having to do with municipal water systems without signing it, which means it will become law. The bill, HB1009, has been controversial in the Asheville area, where opponents saw it as an attempt to take control of a municipal water system out of the hands of local residents.

Perdue issued a statement saying:

“Laws dealing with municipal infrastructure and assets deserve to be updated as our local governments evolve to serve the needs of their communities. But I am not signing House Bill 1009 because it may create conflict between well-managed municipalities and metropolitan sewerage districts over control of water systems funded by local tax and rate payers. I call on the General Assembly to modernize our MSD laws without undermining the ability of our cities to effectively serve their citizens.”

If the governor vetoes any of the bills, she will have to call the General Assembly back into session between Aug. 3 and Aug. 12 to consider overrides.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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