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State bill takes aim at 'green' laws

A bill awaiting the governor's signature would invalidate Durham County's Commute Trip Reduction Ordinance, a law implemented in 1999 that requires large employers to suggest carpooling, public transportation and bike-to-work programs to its employees.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Durham County’s effort to encourage greener living could be a thing of the past.

A bill awaiting the signature of Gov. Pat McCrory would invalidate the county’s Commute Trip Reduction Ordinance, a law implemented in 1999 that requires large employers to suggest carpooling, public transportation and bike-to-work programs to its employees.

House Bill 74 would make ordinances such as Durham County’s illegal. Supporters, including state Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenberg, say the county is overstepping its authority. He takes issue with the county’s fine of up to $1,000 for businesses that don’t comply.

“We are not going to allow Durham County or any county to fine businesses for not participating in what should be a voluntary program,” he said.

County officials touted the program’s success and said no one has ever been fined.

“We'd rather help them find a solution than fine them,” said Tobin Freid, the county's sustainability manager.

Being green is nothing new at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

“We’ve done some initiatives on our own,” spokeswoman Leslie Pepple said.

Those initiatives include installing electric car chargers and creating a “green team.” So it was no big deal when Durham County told the museum it had to follow the requirements of a commuter reduction ordinance, Pepple said.

“This is another step we could take to further green the museum,” she said.

The ordinance also requires businesses appoint a main contact for reduction efforts and create a plan to encourage employees to drive less. Businesses must also conduct employee surveys every other year and pay a $200 administrative fee.

The county says it's been a success.

“We’ve met our goal,” Freid said. “Our goal was a 20 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled.”

McCrory has until Aug. 25 to sign the bill. If he does not, it will become law without his signature.

Despite the looming deadline, Freid said she still sees a greener future for the county.

“We might have to make changes to it, but if that's the law, we'll do what we need to do,” she said.

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