News: Quick Takes

Lawmakers ask governor to close Chemours plant if changes aren’t made

House and Senate Republicans from southeastern North Carolina want Gov. Roy Cooper to close the Chemours chemical manufacturing plant by June if operators don’t stop polluting public waterways with the GenX chemical compound.

That action would be possible under companion bills filed in both chambers Thursday, May 17.

GenX pollution has been a political lightning rod with growing election year significance. Cooper and fellow Democrats complain majority Republicans haven’t done enough to study and stop the release of the chemical.

Cooper made specific reference to GenX cleanup when he unveiled his $24.5 billion budget for 2018-19 on May 10. He budgeted $14.5 million to the departments of Environmental Quality, and Health and Human Services to research and protect air and drinking water, combat emerging contaminants like GenX, and upgrade the state’s outdated permitting system.

“We are pleased the House and Senate worked together to come up with a comprehensive plan that will help stop the pollution of our water supply, provide our families, neighbors and constituents access to clean, safe water and finally hold Chemours responsible for its pollution,” the bills’ authors said in a joint statement.

“This plan accomplishes our immediate goal of addressing water quality in southeastern North Carolina, and puts the tools in place to help protect North Carolinians from GenX and other emerging compounds going forward,” they said.

Chemours, whose parent company is DuPont, is the subject of a class action lawsuit filed by residents living along the Cape Fear River.

But the twin bills filed Thursday are the first legislative proposals to hold Chemours financially responsible for discharging GenX into the public water supply. Cooper could shut down the company’s operations if DEQ can’t stop the pollution.

After months of study, Sens. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick; and Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, filed Senate Bill 724. Reps. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; Holly Grange, R-New Hanover; Frank Iler, R-Brunswick; and William Brisson, R-Bladen, filed an identical House Bill 972.

The bills were submitted on the same day the State Innovation Exchange, a national progressive center, scheduled a town hall in Wilmington. Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, and Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, were to discuss the state’s response to GenX pollution, and environmental protection policies.

The legislation provides more than $10 million for university scientists and state regulators to continue their research into how much GenX and other emerging contaminants are in public water supplies, and the chemicals’ impact on public health and safety. It also calls for a statewide mitigation plan.

The legislation:

  • Authorizes the governor to shut down Chemours, effective June of this year, if DEQ is unable to stop further unauthorized discharges of GenX.
  • Provides additional funding to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to test a technology to treat its groundwater supply and replicate this water treatment technology in other parts of the state.
  • Establishes a framework to require Chemours to provide an alternate permanent water supply for private wells impacted by GenX above the DHHS health standard.
  • Provides $2 million in grant funding to help local governments expedite the extension of municipal water lines to homes with impacted wells. Chemours would reimburse state taxpayers for any expenditures from this fund.
  • Provides $8 million for university researchers to conduct statewide sampling and analysis of GenX and other emerging contaminants in public water supplies.
  • Allocates $1.8 million for DEQ to purchase a mass spectrometer and hire additional staff to support water quality sampling and analysis and address its permitting backlog.

The GenX situation has captured the attention of U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8thCongressional District, who sits on the House Subcommittee on Environment. He has questioned Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in hearings, and sent him letters to determine the status of EPA efforts to give states information about the toxicity of GenX to know how to deal with it.