Read the full article by Kemp Burdette and Derb Carter
“On Oct. 20, the StarNews published an opinion piece by Duke professor Lee Ferguson touting the North Carolina legislature as ‘visionary’ for funding research on GenX and other PFAS — toxic chemicals found in the state’s drinking water. But the people of the Lower Cape Fear region, from Fayetteville to Wilmington, need action…
As an initial matter, Professor Ferguson should have disclosed that he received funding from the legislature to research GenX and other PFAS. The complete story of the legislature’s actions and inactions show that it helped create the pollution crisis we now face.
While investigations of unknown toxic contaminants in the state’s waters are important, it is more urgent to address the known contamination. There, the legislature has not only completely failed to deliver, but has impeded the state’s ability to respond to GenX and other pollution.
The Department of Environmental Quality — not university researchers — has the authority and ability to require companies like Chemours to address their toxic pollution. While the agency has attempted to solve the GenX problem in the Cape Fear River, it remains shorthanded because the legislature failed to fund Gov. Roy Cooper’s specific request (supported by like-minded legislators) for an additional $14.5 million for necessary staff and equipment. Instead, the legislature appropriated only $1.8 million to the Department of Environmental Quality to address GenX and diverted $5 million to universities to study, not to solve, our state’s water pollution crisis.
This refusal to fund the Department of Environmental Quality comes after the legislature cut the agency’s budget by 40 percent over the past few years. These cuts have crippled the agency’s ability to enforce environmental protections.
Other actions the legislature should have taken to address GenX pollution would have improved the safety of North Carolinians’ drinking water. The legislature should have restored the DEQ’s budget so that the agency can do its job to protect our state’s water. It should have repealed the law it enacted in 2011 that banned state agencies from adopting any environmental standard more protective than minimum federal standards, restoring authority to the agency to take action to safeguard North Carolina communities. Swayed by corporate lobbyists, the legislature did none of these things.
Even the funding the legislature allocated to universities for research is fundamentally flawed. The $5 million study will not identify any companies responsible for contaminating our drinking water. The only way to stop pollution is to identify the polluters.
The vision many of us have for North Carolina is a state where our drinking water is protected by necessary safeguards and adequately funded, expert agencies that can stop pollution. Over the past several years, the legislature has acted to protect irresponsible companies by stripping funding and legal authority from the DEQ, putting our families and communities at risk. It has obstructed the state’s response to GenX and limited the agency’s ability to respond to other toxic contamination in our rivers and streams.
Funding research on pollution can only be a step forward if the state is empowered to act on that research to hold polluters accountable. The legislation that funded Professor Ferguson’s work expressly prohibits that essential action and cannot compensate for the legislature’s years of dismantling water protections.”