Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate Wednesday tentatively approved Senate Bill 612, which would ban any local environmental rules more stringent than state or federal law.
Senate Republican leaders are calling it a victory for "job-creators." Critics say it will damage the environment and lead to problems for taxpayers.
Sponsor Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the measure is in response to town hall meetings Republican leaders held around the state in 2011.
"Anybody that had a business interest at all, they all complained about the rules and regulations we had in the state," he said.
An amendment by Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, removed an entire section that would have done away with required buffers along waterways in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse river basins. Environmental experts say those riparian buffers have helped boost formerly poor water quality in both systems.
But the measure still forbids city or county governments from having any environmental regulations that are stricter than the state's regulations. It also instructs state officials to repeal or rewrite any rule that is stricter than federal regulation.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said state and federal rules are meant to be the "floor," and local communities have always been allowed to tailor them to suit their communities, like Raleigh's restrictions on fat and grease disposal because of the city's problems with sewer clogs.
"Camden County – they have their own rules that require developers to deal with 6 inches of stormwater in a 24-hour period. That's because they know that happens in Camden County, because it's flat. The state doesn’t do that," Stein said.
Emerald Isle has similar requirements. Stein said the local government there awards points to property owners who help them get insurance discounts. "We are going to raise insurance rates on Emerald Isle," he warned.
"This is another example of us getting into what is not our business," he said. "The state should not be dictating to local communities how to protect their people, and yet we have a provision in here that absolutely hamstrings local communities."
Brown said those circumstances could be dealt with through the bill's exceptions for "serious and unforeseen threats to public health, safety, or welfare."
But Stein pointed out that neither heavy rainfall on the coast nor sewer backups in Raleigh could be considered "unforeseen" problems.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said her local governments are strongly opposed to the bill.
"We have water requirements in our areas that are distinct, and we have dealt with them on a local level," she said. "We’re telling them they can’t do what they know is best for their area."
The bill also allows property owners to dispose of potentially toxic waste on their own land instead of approved landfills.
The measure passed 36-12 on second reading. Third reading is scheduled for Thursday after an objection by Stein.