“Members of our North Carolina General Assembly introduced two bills last week with widely different approaches to the pollution problems from chemicals manufactured and used at the Chemours plant near the Cape Fear River. The pollution threat posed by GenX emissions and discharges from the plant became an urgent concern when GenX and other pollutants from the same chemical family were discovered in groundwater, surface water and drinking water. One bill, House Bill 968, closes loopholes and provides enforcement resources, which North Carolina’s environmental law enforcement agencies need to do their jobs. The other bill, Senate Bill 724, actually hampers ongoing state enforcement efforts against Chemours and creates legal confusion regarding liability and cleanup obligations at other locations statewide.

House Bill 968 strengthens pollution restrictions, addresses new pollution threats with stronger rules, and fully funds environmental investigation and enforcement by state agencies. The bill removes a loophole in North Carolina law that keeps the state from protecting water from contamination caused by air pollution, which is critical because air pollution can contaminate both surface and groundwater. The legislation frees North Carolina regulators to protect our state’s waters more strongly than the federal government is willing or able to do. It gives the secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality power to hold those who contaminate drinking water supplies financially responsible for cleaning up or treating the contamination. And it provides $14 million to increase the enforcement resources needed to hold polluters accountable.

In contrast, Senate Bill 724 makes existing enforcement against Chemours plant harder, allocates millions of dollars to agencies with no enforcement authority, and creates uncertain liability for intermediaries who have treated wastewater from homes, businesses and military bases. The bill creates a whole new set of criteria which must be proved by DEQ in order to make Chemours undertake any actions at all, disrupting existing cases and imposing new proof requirements on the agency. Meanwhile the agency is forced to borrow lab equipment from local research universities to do testing, even though university personnel have other jobs and are not available to testify as investigative officers on behalf of the state against polluters in the new court and administrative hearings required by the bill. Senate Bill 724 poses a real danger of letting Chemours off the hook.

Senate Bill 724 also creates a whole different type of problem. It creates a scheme where a facility discharging historically produced compounds in the same chemical family as GenX may be liable for completely inadvertent contamination from dishwashing and laundry facilities. This is a problem because these chemicals were once widely used to manufacture Teflon and Scotchguard and were included in items like food packaging, firefighting foams and stain-resistant clothing. Senate Bill 724 is too broadly worded on these issues and leaves too many unresolved questions.”

Read the full article by Ryan Longest