Local Politics

Tougher landfill, renewable energy rules approved

Posted August 2, 2007
Updated April 30, 2008

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— As they scrambled to finish their business for the year, lawmakers on Thursday approved tougher restrictions on landfills and a bill requiring utilities to draw more on renewable resources for their energy.

Senate Bill 1492 passed the House on a close vote after earlier passing the Senate. The proposal calls for extending buffer zones around new landfills to protect the environment and requiring higher fees on trash dumped at other landfills. The goal is to raise money so older dumps could be maintained properly.

The bill, which also continues a yearlong moratorium on landfills proposed for Camden and Columbus counties, had been fiercely opposed by waste management companies, whose representatives said the added regulations would force communities to pay more to haul their waste farther away.

Senate Bill 3, which would require North Carolina utilities to get 12.5 percent of their retail electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power or methane gas from hog waste, also passed despite opposition from environmental groups. They said the bill, which also permits utilities to charge customers upfront to build nuclear or coal-fired power plants, strayed from its purpose of promoting renewable energy.

As they tried to finish their business for the year, legislative leaders reflected on their successes.

House Speaker Joe Hackney took over in January after former Speaker Jim Black resigned amid a public corruption scandal. Hackney tried to lead his colleagues past the ethical questions that dogged many of them.

"It's been a short distraction," Hackney said of Black's legal troubles.

"That just leaves a cloud over state government," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

The lawmakers approved a $20.7 billion state budget on Monday, including pay raises for teachers and state employees, relieving counties of Medicaid costs and giving counties the option of adopting a local sales tax or real estate transfer tax.

"The counties can move forward now. It gives them what they need," House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said.

"What we had was a $1.5 billion surplus, and yet the Democrats still felt like they needed to increase taxes," said Berger, a Rockingham County Republican.

"We've kept the agenda in the middle of the road. It's not been a left-wing agenda. It's not been a right-wing agenda," said Hackney, an Orange County Democrat.

Lawmakers also approved self-extinguishing cigarettes after a discarded cigarette was blamed for a fire that ripped through a Raleigh townhouse complex. In the wake of several alcohol-related accidents that killed Wake County teens, a law that would revoke the driver's license of any adult who knowingly provided alcohol to a minor also passed.

But some issues failed to meet lawmakers' approval, including a ban on smoking in public places, a gang prevention program and toll roads.

In addition to losing out on toll roads, transportation got little support in the General Assembly in terms of funding for new roads or maintenance money.

"We didn't have consensus to make a big push on transportation funding. We had plenty of other things on our plate," said Hackney, who said a special legislative session might be needed early next year to handle transportation issues.

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