Under the Dome

Latest deregulation bill takes shape

This year’s safari for regulations to hunt down and kill has taken shape in the final days of the session.

This is the fifth year that the Republican-controlled General Assembly has written a wide-ranging deregulation bill. As in previous sessions, House Bill 765 is a compilation of ideas that have bounced between the two chambers over the past year or two.

It targets obsolete laws and rewrites regulations affecting the environment, business and local ordinances. It expands the “Good Samaritan” law to protect those who help in lifesaving emergencies, and it sets up an animal welfare hotline in the Attorney General’s Office.

The attention in these bills is usually on conflicts between protecting the environment, which has highly organized advocates, and easing the regulatory burdens on business, which has its own set of advocates and a sympathetic majority in the state legislature.

The 71-page bill, which is on the Monday calendar for the House and Senate, was worked out in a conference committee of members from both chambers.

“We have a great conference report,” Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Emerald Isle, said on the House floor Thursday.

“This sweeping ‘Polluter Protection Act,’ revised but not greatly improved in conference committee, is two votes closer to becoming law in North Carolina,” the N.C. Conservation Network said in a news release on Friday.

Dome readers will recognize some version of the highlights from earlier this year and last year:

▪ Self-auditing: Gives companies that pollute some legal protection if they voluntarily disclose violations before inspectors find it, and keeps related internal documents private. This new version allows criminal investigators access to some of those records.

▪ Electronic recycling: Originally, this provision would have repealed the requirement that manufacturers recycle electronics that people discard, potentially increasing costs to local municipalities. Instead, the bill now calls for a study of the economic ramifications before the program is eliminated.

▪ Air quality monitors: Would reduce the number of air quality monitors around the state from 132 to 74 with further reductions planned. The state Department of Environmental Quality says almost half of the 132 are used to track weather and other purposes not related to pollution detection. The agency says it will move 12 pollutant monitors based on scientific data, leaving 86 such monitors in the state.

▪ Intermittent streams: These are streams that dry up in the summer. Some lawmakers say they amount to no more than rain-filled ditches. But environmentalists contend they provide important habitat and pollution control, and that almost half the state’s streams are considered intermittent.

▪ Isolated wetlands: This ongoing effort attempts to limit the number of small wetlands that can be regulate. It originally proposed regulating only those that are one acre or more. The bill now would require they be at least an acre in the coastal region, one-half acre or more in the Piedmont, and up to one-third acre in the mountains.