Raleigh, N.C. — The General Assembly on Wednesday overrode Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of an environmental bill that set aside some money to study potentially toxic pollution in the Cape Fear River, repealed a ban on plastic grocery store bags on the Outer Banks and made other regulatory changes.
After the 70-44 vote in the House, the Senate voted 30-9 with no debate in favor of the override.
Cooper complained that the bill doesn't come close to meeting his request for $2.6 million to study GenX in the Cape Fear River and that none of the $435,000 legislators did approve goes to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services as state regulatory agencies.
GenX is an unregulated compound used to make Teflon and other products. It's health effects aren't known because of little study, but it is related to a family of chemicals that has been linked to cancer.
"The veto does nothing to provide any more funding for the GenX issue," said Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person, who called for the override. "Instead, it attempts to stop the small programs that have already begun and that we are trying to support."
Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said the funding provided in the bill would be "piecemeal" and wouldn't help get a handle on GenX and other chemicals in North Carolina's water supply like the "top-down approach" favored by Cooper. Only 10,000 of about 85,000 chemicals used in industry have been studied, and only nine of the scores of problematic ones have been banned, she said.
"We've got to fund the DEQ and the DHHS to an adequate level so that they can do the testing. They're the only group that's got subpoena power. They're the only ones who actually have the teeth to actually stop polluters," Butler said.
Another provision of the bill would roll back a 2009 law forbidding retailers in Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties from giving customers single-use plastic bags, except to contain fresh fish, meat, poultry or produce.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said officials and businesses on the Outer Banks support the bag ban, which has led to much less debris than in southern coastal counties where plastic bags are allowed.
Yarborough said that, while some local officials might like the ban, the state lawmakers who represent the Outer Banks do not.
Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, called the bag ban unconstitutional in her motion for the override.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said he had no problem with the GenX or bag ban portions of the bill, but he opposed the override because it calls for limiting local government control of landfill operations, which he said could hurt recycling programs statewide.
"It's easier to just move trash and put it in a big hole than to reduce trash through recycling," McGrady said.
Wade, however, said the bill would end "county monopolies of solid waste services," which she said would benefit every person, business and organization that pays for trash services in the state.
Other provisions in the bill include changes to stream buffers and mining permits.
"When it comes to drinking water, legislators should put politics aside and listen to experts," Cooper said in a statement. "This legislation does not solve the problem and fails to fund the agencies responsible for protecting drinking water and holding polluters accountable. It also unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections and overturns a local plastic bag ban protecting beaches and water.
"Protecting drinking water from emerging contaminants will require a statewide solution, and families shouldn’t suffer under the illusion that this legislation starts fixing the problem," he concluded.