Environmental rollback heads for Senate vote

Posted April 25, 2013

— It took just 45 minutes Thursday morning for the Senate Commerce Committee to approve a massive rollback of rules and regulations meant to protect the state's environment. 

Senate Bill 612 would require cities and counties to repeal any rules stricter than state or federal law. It would also require a list of environmental oversight boards and agencies to repeal or rewrite any state rule stricter than federal regulation on any given matter.

Those agencies include the Mining and Energy Commission, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Environmental Management Commission, the Commission for Public Health, the Pesticide Board and the Coastal Resources, Marine Fisheries, Wildlife Resources and Sedimentation Control commissions.

The bill would also do away with riparian buffers on private property throughout the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins.

Those two basins cover a huge swath of eastern North Carolina, stretching from the Virginia border through Raleigh and Rocky Mount all the way to Greenville and New Bern at the coast.  Watersheds include Eno, Falls Lake, Crabtree, Lake Mattamuskeet and Swan Quarter estuaries. 

Senate sponsors said they did not know how many acres the riparian repeal would affect. The buffers are intended to protect river water quality from the pressures of development. 

The bill would also permit demolition crews, including those working on old power plants, to dispose of potentially toxic materials on site, instead of transporting them to a landfill. 

Sponsor Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the bill "will roll some of these rules and regulations back to make this state more business-friendly."

The proposed committee substitute, unveiled just hours before the meeting, is much larger in scope than the original measure that was available to the public before the meeting.

It was originally referred to the Environment Committee, but was re-referred to the Commerce Committee on Tuesday. 

Representatives for various interest groups were caught off-guard by the changes. No one from DENR was even in the room to comment on the proposal till halfway through the meeting. 

Asked about the riparian buffer and state law rollbacks, Deputy Water Quality Director Ted Bush said, "I don't know DENR's position," adding, "I had not seen this language prior to today." 

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, asked for the reasoning behind banning local governments from enacting ordinances and rules stricter than federal rules, which, he pointed out, are "meant to establish a floor, not a ceiling" for environmental regulation.

McKissick said communities in the mountains might have different local needs than those in the Piedmont or at the coast. "Why wouldn't we want to allow some local variation?" he asked.

"This says local government can't go any farther than the state and federal rules that are out there," Brown reiterated. "It takes a look at some of those rules and puts them back to some common sense, to be quite honest."

The only member of the public who accepted the invitation to comment on the bill was Mary Maclean Asbill with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill. She urged the committee to delay a vote on the measure until they could get more information about its likely effects. "There's some really meaty issues in this bill," she warned. "It's massive." 

The committee approved the bill on a voice vote that appeared to be on party lines. Its next stop is the Senate floor, where it could get a vote as soon as Monday night.


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  • jbyrd Apr 30, 2013

    I am a lifelong conservative with strong libertarian beliefs and my true opinion of this bill would not get past the censors.
    It would be a DISASTER for this state.

  • kdogwnc Apr 26, 2013

    Would the environmental regulation rollback nullify steep slope development ordinances in counties like Haywood, where I live?

    Also I noted a slight change in another provision that would allow "wood" to be used as fill. Anyone who has had to deal with unsuitable fill on a construction site understands that using wood as fill is a really, really bad idea, and really, really expensive to deal with down the road.

  • itisallacharade Apr 26, 2013

    :'( I moved to asheville just in enough time for it to be destroyed.

  • jgilchr Apr 26, 2013

    I fully believe human beings may be the first species on Earth to cause their own extinction. We are willing to kill ourselves in pursuit of the all mighty dollar.

  • Krimson Apr 26, 2013

    Yankee1: "The question is how to do it best and at what cost to property owners and business."

    The "best" way (I suppose) would be the "cheapest". With that in mind, its cheaper to do nothing and leave the buffers than it is to clean up polluted rivers.

    As for property owners, the Riparian Buffer system in NC has been in place for years and buyers (should) understand what they are buying before spending the money (caveat emptor). My In-Laws bought lake front property in SC and they have a buffer in their backyard. They knew what it was, and they like it - it means that no one of the lake can pollute it and ruin my father-in-laws fishing hobby...

    I go to lunch with several of the Enviro guys in my office, I'll get some more details then...

  • one Apr 26, 2013

    Some things just make sense
    Can you find a non-government / university / association that is government sponsored or subsidized study on the benefit of brushing your teeth?  or eating healthy?
    How about a non-dentist study on flossing?
      Who do you think is going to do a study on the benefits of a buffer?  Business are in the business of making money- a very noble & essential goal - I don't think a study on the benefits of riparian buffers will make them $   Have you ever been canoeing some of our rivers?  OUR rivers - they belong to all of us.  

  • innocent bystander 3 Apr 26, 2013

    /Ok all you environmental experts, I have a challenge for you. Show me some INDEPENDENT, not Government agency, not Government funded, not University based government subsidized study that shows a significant positive affect of Riparian buffers compared to not having any./ yankee1

    LOL if you refuse to accept any research that's university-based or federally funded then what do you consider to be valid unbiased? Studies funded by real estate developers?

  • European American Apr 26, 2013

    That's what I thought.... obviously not! Got served!

  • yankee1 Apr 26, 2013

    I understand the water quality concerns and agree that it's necessary. The question is how to do it best and at what cost to property owners and business. It appears from the lack of response, that such studies don't exist. If that's true, than there is a problem.

  • mikeherrmann2 Apr 26, 2013

    The factors threatening our environment aren't going away (Population growth, loss of forest to development, runoff from swine and chicken farms). Protecting streamside forests (i.e., buffers) is one of the most cost-effective means of preventing our water bodies from being polluted. Polluted waters are bad for business. Let's hope these proposals don't get rolled back as proposed.