Legislative Watch: Making It Tougher for Neighbors to Challenge Polluters
As the General Assembly begins its turn into the home stretch of the session, multiple threats still face North Carolina’s environment—including the prospect of stacking the deck even higher in favor of polluters over impacted neighbors.
Beyond the budget, perhaps the most serious new threat comes in the form of a seemingly technical change to the rules governing who may sue over a problematic pollution permit. HB 374 would bar impacted neighbors and other citizens from getting an administrative law judge hearing to challenge the issuance of a state permit for a polluting project, unless the challenger had submitted a specific comment on the project during the state agency’s review process. The problem, of course, is that most of the potentially impacted people won’t even have heard about the permit until after it’s been issued. This proposed change is just another way to keep impacted neighbors from successfully challenging wealthy, well-connected polluters.
HB 374, now called the “Business Freedom Act,” initially passed the House in a different, relatively non-controversial form. When it came up in the Senate Commerce committee last week, however, it had been stuffed with anti-environmental provisions like the above, and passed there despite objections. In addition to making it very tough for citizens to challenge pollution permits, or even to get their concerns heard by a judge, the revised bill also weakens regulation of garbage landfills, coal ash recycling requirements, and septic systems. It’s now gone to the Senate Finance Committee for further review.
NCLCV and other conservation advocates also oppose HB 576, “Allow Aerosolization of Leachate,” which would mandate the permitting for waste companies to turn liquid landfill runoff into an airborne mist. Dirty fog, anyone? Despite opposition from legislators concerned about the impacts of this unproven new technology on the neighbors of up to 900 landfills in our state, the bill has been passed by both houses and is on its way to the governor. Too many of our current legislators are unmoved by these cases of environmental injustice, in which families’ safety from environmental hazards is “determined by their zip code.”
HB 581, “Outdoor Advertising”, continues the trend of sweetheart deals for the billboard industry at the expense of citizens who’d like to be able to travel across their cities and towns without ads constantly flashing in their faces. HB 581 would gut local efforts to control the relocation of billboards to areas not zoned to allow them, allow more cutting of trees in the public right-of-way just to keep billboards visible, and make it easier to replace ordinary billboards with glaring, distracting, quickly changing electronic billboards. HB 581 passed out of committee and is headed to a vote on the House floor. NCLCV urges a “no” vote on HB 581.
A handful of other bills containing so-called “regulatory reform” provisions, including bad changes to buffer and stormwater rules, remain under active consideration in various stages. The Senate in particular continues to play the role of a cheesy horror flick, in which a new monster can leap out of the next doorway at any time.