When it comes to the safety of our water, we hope that God, government and the water treatment plant are protecting us.
In North Carolina, all three are racking up overtime these days, and we may soon lose government as a viable partner.
The N.C. General Assembly is considering measures that reduce the likelihood that our health can be protected from problems either with the water we use and consume directly or within the vast ecosystem whose health we depend upon.
Behind the innocuous title of House Bill 765, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 being considered by legislative conferees would bring radical, thoughtless changes that the Conservation Network of North Carolina warns “would weaken protections for air quality, water quality, streams, groundwater, and soil, and also provisions that would hide evidence of corporate wrong-doing and raise financial barriers to citizens who challenge governments rules or permits.”
Despite its appeal as a political chant, “limited government” makes us less able to be current in testing, enforcement and in the very creation of standards when scientific determination of risk is required. New potions and products and combinations of them come on the market every day. The General Assembly seems only too happy to bet our health on agricultural and industrial self-restraint in an environment where the fact of discharge is rarely seen, smelled, heard or felt and our heath costs are very real, but long term.
This retreat would leave local communities and residents who do not have resources or expertise even to define the problems to fight challenges to community health with local ordinances and court action. The General Assembly, however, is tilting the playing field against residents and communities that might do so by barring local ordinances and chilling private legal actions where they might otherwise find relief.
Sanitized public supply and store-bought water bottles have lulled us into focusing just on what we drink. Water that cannot support rivers, streams, lakes and oceans teeming with life cannot be good for us or be made right by imperfect filters and chemistry
Consumption decisions in our food, clothes, cars and other products are about taste and pocketbook. The competition for our dollars by those who vent or drain into our streams above us is vast and brutal in a marketplace where advantage may be gained in cutting costs and corners. There must be rules for the safety of all. Scientifically based rules and fair and even-handed enforcement must protect us as neighbors of production and consumers of products from the latent health risks that live and wait in so many mistakes or excesses.
Our warning would lie in the flesh and health of fewer fish and wildlife now less likely to be tested.
For the sake of our health, lawmakers must reject House Bill 765.
Harry Payne is interim executive director of Toxic Free NC.