Weekly Conservation Bulletin

CIB 1/13/2014

The future of clean water in North Carolina is at stake in hearings starting Thursday, plus more news, this week in CIB:

Administrative Watch: Clean Water on the Line

Every meaningful state protection for clean water in North Carolina will be at grave risk of being cut back or eliminated in the rules review process starting this week in Raleigh. At a hearing opening at 10 a.m. this Thursday, January 16, the powerful state Rules Review Commission (RRC) will outline its plan for sifting the "necessary" protections out of the wide body of state laws on water quality.

Anything deemed 'unnecessary' will be dumped. Everything categorized as 'necessary' and of 'significant public interest' will be kicked into an immediate high-stakes mass review process, through which it can be re-adopted, weakened, or killed. All of our state's environmental protections will face this gauntlet over the next few years. Last year's General Assembly session dictated that all clean water and wetland rules would have to go first--to live or die (along with our state's waters they protect) this year.

The special interests and polluters who have chafed for years at constraints adopted under more environmentally conscientious North Carolina leaders are gleeful now at the prospect of shaking the regulators thoroughly off their bulldozers and drainpipes. North Carolina's painstakingly crafted state wetlands conservation rules are number one on the hit list.

As the RRC adopts its procedural rules, the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is preparing its own review of 375 surface water and wetland rules that the Division of Water Resources says will need to go through the review and re-adoption process.

This is a process that North Carolina citizens and conservation advocates cannot afford to overlook. It will be critical to raise public voices in support of clean drinking water, fishing and wildlife resources, swimming and other recreational uses. By and large, the general public has no idea how much they take for granted in this area will be under attack and at severe risk this year. It will be up to the citizen environmental quality movement to let them know, before it is too late to save our waters.

Around the States: Drilling Pollution Confirmed in Three States

The Associated Press reports that official records in at least three states show confirmed cases of well-water pollution from oil and gas drilling over the past five years. Hundreds of contamination complaints attributed to drilling (including fracking) have been recorded during that time in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas. Over 100 cases of well-water contamination have been confirmed in Pennsylvania alone.

Researchers report difficulty in obtaining complete records from some of the responsible government agencies, and the specificity of record-keeping varies from state to state. For example, Pennsylvania records confirm the most contamination cases, but state officials there have been less willingly transparent in responding to information requests. Texas officials have readily provided the most detail, but deny confirming any cases of drilling-related well-water contamination during the study period.

Finding confirmed cases of well-water pollution related to drilling in three states, among hundreds of complaint cases, helps to explode the often-repeated assertion that there have been no documented cases of pollution from fracking. For more details, see here.

Coast Watch: Shifting Sand to Shackleford?

A proposal to shift the disposal of material from the dredging of navigation channels in Morehead City Harbor has a coalition of coastal interests up in arms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to change from depositing that dredged material on the oceanfront of highly developed Bogue Banks (home of Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, etc.) and dump it instead on the shoreline of wild Shackleford Banks.

Objectors come from both directions: those who are concerned about keeping the 'beach nourishment' material for the heavily used beaches of Bogue Banks, and those whose top concern is preserving the wilderness environment of Shackleford Banks. Objectors include several well-known coastal scientists, including Orrin Pilkey, Michael Orbach, John Wells, and Charles Peterson. The combined coalition coordinating opposition, the Carteret Coalition to Protect Our Shores, has an explanatory website here.

The public hearing on the Army Corps proposal is scheduled for Wednesday, January 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort (Carteret County). Written comments can also be submitted in advance of a February 3 deadline to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District; ATTN: Mr. Hugh Heine, Environmental Resources Section; 69 Darlington Avenue; Wilmington NC 28403.

Education & Resources: 2013 in Review, and a Look Ahead

Robin Smith (the other RS--not the NCLCV staff member) spent a multi-decade public service career as a high-ranking member of the N.C. Attorney General's office focusing on environmental law, and in the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), capped with 12 years as DENR Assistant Secretary for Environment. She currently publishes an information-thick blog on state environmental law and policy matters, a resource always worth reading.

Smith provides here one of the better reviews of the most significant NC environmental developments of 2013, and the most important upcoming state developments in 2014.

That's our report for this week.


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