Under the Dome

Environmental review weakened in Senate committee

Sponsors of a bill to weaken a state law that requires extra environmental scrutiny of publicly financed projects on Wednesday abandoned their agreement to scale back its impact.

Last month the House approved House Bill 795 after its sponsors consented to amendments reducing its reach. Projects costing the state more than $10 million, rather than the bill’s original $20 million, or that disturb at least five acres of public land, rather than 20 acres, would have triggered an environmental review, under the compromise.

But in the bill’s first hearing in the Senate, in an environmental committee meeting on Wednesday, sponsors reverted to the original triggers, which would leave far fewer projects facing additional environmental review. One Republican House member last month said the original bill, in effect, repealed the State Environmental Policy Act.

The N.C. Chamber has made passage of the bill a priority, saying it was part of the regulatory overhaul needed to help the economy. The Sierra Club opposes it, saying it has been rushed through the legislature with little public input and without any study of its impact.

The Senate committee approved the changes. It is next headed for the full Senate.

Bill sponsors are Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican from Rutherfordton who is the House majority leader; Rep. John Torbett, a Republican from Stanley; and Rep. Chris Millis, a Republican from Hampstead.