Since taking over the General Assembly in 2011, Republicans have made good each year on their promise to cut costs and bureaucracy – moves they say will help businesses thrive. After six years of cuts they still find regulations to eliminate, despite warnings from environmentalists and consumer advocates that protections are at risk.
This year is no different: Dozens of proposed regulatory changes have popped up in the House and Senate, where they have been sliced and shuffled and tossed into a trio of bills. Most of the individual proposals are not major changes, but the cumulative effect is significant.
Here’s a look at where things stand:
Landfills and recycling
House Bill 169: Don’t let the bill number fool you: It started out as a House bill but the Senate rewrote it into this year’s regulations legislation. The Senate approved it on June 13 and sent it the House, which on Thursday referred it to its Regulatory Reform Committee.
The bill eliminates, consolidates or modifies regulations and reports. Highlights include provisions that would:
▪ Repeal the ban on discarding televisions and computers in landfills, and no longer require manufacturers to finance a recycling program that counties across the state run.
▪ Gradually reduce the number of counties that must conduct vehicle emissions inspections, and reduce the number of vehicles required to be inspected.
▪ Prohibit state agencies from adopting rules that are projected to cost $100 million or more over five years.
▪ Put restrictions on rules that could cost $10 million or more over five years. If the rule comes from a board or commission, 60 percent of those voting would have to approve it. For rules by agencies, the governor or other statewide elected official in charge of the agency would have to sign off. The General Assembly would also review the rules.
▪ Eliminate reports to the legislature, including those on the state of the environment, sustainable energy efficient buildings and fish kills. A report on the impact of erosion-control walls that extend from shore into the ocean would be required every five years instead of annually.
Show of unity
Senate Bill 303: Again, it’s a bill that started in the Senate but the House turned it into its annual regulations bill. It’s headed to the Senate after the House did a remarkable thing on Thursday: passed it unanimously.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro who takes the lead on most of her party’s environmental bills, and Rep. Chris Millis, a Republican from Hampstead who has taken the lead in battling environmental laws, put their heads together and hashed out a compromise.
Millis told his colleagues the bill was “the continuation of the conservative majority’s desire to listen to the voice of the citizens to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations and cut through red tape, with respect for the environment.”
“I was happy to vote ‘aye’ for a reg reform bill for the first time in 6 yrs and thank @RepMillis for working w/ us,” Harrison tweeted after the vote.
Among other things, the bill would:
▪ Set a limit of three years for local government to bring legal action for a violation of land-use laws, ordinances or permits.
▪ Study contracting with nonprofit organizations for some state services, which could involve the use of grants.
▪ Place new restrictions on wind turbines near military bases, a concept that is also advancing in a separate proposal.
▪ Study whether buffers along intermittent streams should be reduced in size or opened up to greater use.
So much for kumbaya
House Bill 593: This newcomer just popped up Thursday in a Senate environment committee, where it was approved and sent to the floor the same day. It was later re-routed to the Senate Finance Committee.
“Here we are faced with the Polluters’ Protection Act 2.0,” Mary Maclean Asbill, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the environment committee.
She said it had just surfaced the night before in a bill that went from five to 14 pages. “It’s not the way to handle these substantive issues,” she said.
“We’ll have the entire weekend” to review it, responded sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, a Greensboro Republican, adding she would be glad to answer questions. She said many provisions have been discussed already.
Some of the provisions would:
▪ Require state regulators to study whether landfill management in the state is efficient and cost-effective, and report their findings in five months.
▪ Allow a new technology to dispose of waste liquids from landfills without permits. The technology, aerosolization, involves spraying the liquids into the air.
▪ Prohibit state environmental regulators from requiring stormwater control measures to protect downstream water quality unless state or federal law requires it.
Staff writer Craig Jarvis
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