The sweeping regulatory overhaul bill SB734 heads over to the House this week after the Senate gave it final approval with a few tweaks.
One of those tweaks addressed a concern that environmentalists had with one of the provisions. The bill grants immunity from fines and penalties for companies that report to enforcement agencies environmental violations discovered through self-auditing. It also creates a legal privilege protecting the audits, and those involved in preparing the audits, from having to testify about them.
Critics said that could give polluters a free ride without fear of consequences. Supporters said it would encourage companies to report violations, which would allow regulators to ensure they are cleaned up.
Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, got together with bill sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Greensboro, and convinced her to put restrictions on the immunity and privilege provisions.
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Now the bill would allow owners or operators of a polluting facility to exercise that privilege or immunity once in a two-year period, no more than twice in a five-year period and no more than three times in a 10-year period.
Environmental groups still have problems with other provisions in the bill restricting legal action against polluters, diminishing air pollution monitoring, and eliminating protections for some isolated wetlands.