Raleigh, N.C. — A Senate committee took a little more than an hour Tuesday to green-light a 60-page suite of regulatory changes that would affect everything from the sale of university-brewed beer to construction in coastal communities.
In an announcement Tuesday morning, state Republican leaders praised the reforms as an effort to streamline the environmental permitting process and clear outdated and ambiguous rules from the state law books while expanding environmental protection.
But some Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns in committee about Senate Bill 734, which until Tuesday morning's meeting contained only a short provision to consolidate fertilizer regulations.
Environmental advocates seeing the bill language for the first time said they were wary of some of the measures, although they said further study would be needed before commenting further.
Among other changes, the bill would:
- Allow the governor, after the declaration of a state of emergency, to waive requirements for the repair or replacement of bridges on the coast
- Prohibit the use of voluntary internal environmental audits for use as evidence in a lawsuit
- Require the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to stop air quality monitoring not required by the EPA, unless it's part of an investigation or emergency situation
- Repeal an old ban on cursing on public highways in the state, which legislative staff says is likely unconstitutional
- Discontinue five-year energy audits of state agencies and universities
- Allow the use of pesticide on all moles except the star-nosed mole
- Permit those who lawfully salvage shipwrecks and donate the artifacts to the state to have access to them under certain conditions
- Begin the process of establishing 10,000 acres of the Pamlico Sound as a shellfish sanctuary
- Move authority over wastewater systems from the Commission for Public Health to the Environmental Management Commission, an appointed group under DENR
- Establish a honeybee working group to study colony collapse disorder, a condition leading to massive bee die-offs
- Allow community colleges to get a brewery license and sell beer with some limitations if brewing or distillation is part of an official curriculum.
Lawmakers offered only one amendment to the reform bill, which members of the committee voted to recommend without opposition.
But Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, did raise concerns about the transfer of wastewater oversight powers from the public health commission to the EMC, which includes one appointed doctor.
"I just wanted to express this concern that, while I think it's great that we have that physician, there is a whole body of expertise related to public health, that we don't lose that in this process somehow," Bryant said. "Hopefully there will be other factors that apply."
In a joint statement, co-sponsor Sens. Trudy Wade, Brent Jackson and Andrew Brock pointed out that this has been the fourth regulatory reform bill introduced since Republicans were elected the majority in 2011.
"For decades, government regulation and red tape were a real roadblock to job creation in North Carolina," the statement read. "But by offering regulatory reform legislation every session we've been in leadership, Senate Republicans have proven our commitment to freeing North Carolinians from bureaucratic headaches, spurring economic growth and making our state a more attractive place to do business."