The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) met this week to discuss the triennial review and pending 1,4 dioxane litigation. The EMC The EMC is a 15-member commission appointed by the Governor, the Senate Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House responsible for adopting rules for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air and water resources.
In 2022, the EMC approved a numeric 1,4 dioxane standard proposed in the NC DEQ Triennial Review, which is the process by which water quality standards are set. The previous standard was narrative. For example, a narrative standard says that levels can not exceed a value that would be harmful to human health, based on human health criteria. A numeric standard says the level can not exceed 0.35ug/L as set by the human health criteria. The EMC approved the numeric standard, which was a huge win for our communities. That rule then went to the Rules Review Commission (RRC), a commission meant to verify constitutionality. The RCC did not approve the EMC’s standard.
In 2022, the EMC challenged the RRC’s ruling, stating they did not have the authority to deny the EMC’s ruling. In the time that has passed, the EMC has become more conservative, replacing some of Gov. Cooper’s appointees with much more anti-regulatory members. Reidsville has also intervened in this case, stating they would be financially harmed if the EMC were to approve a 1,4 dioxane standard.
Earlier this week, Greensboro also intervened, repeating Reisdville’s concerns. Southern Environmental Law Center intervened on our behalf, along with Cape Fear River Watch to support the 1,4 dioxane standard.
During the full EMC meeting on Thursday, the commission ruled to dismiss the case altogether. The vote was 8-7. Several commissioners gave impassioned criticism for this decision. Commissioner Robin Smith vehemently opposed the motion to dismiss. “We’ve spent a lot of time on this commission working on issues related to emerging contams like 1,4 dioxane and PFAS. It is our responsibility, our legal obligation to enforce the Clean Water Act through EPA and state law. To voluntarily kill this rule is not consistent with that responsibility.” The dismissal of the case by the EMC thwarts any attempts by NCDEQ to enforce a 1,4 dioxane standard.
However, late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Cooper’s office filed a case to reverse the decision of the EMC, and a Wake County Superior Court judge granted the motion. We are working with SELC and other partners to fully understand what the next steps will be.
The dismissal of this case, in short, means there will be no way to NCDEQ to enforce a 1,4 dioxane standard.
For our communities in the Haw, there are still massive loads of 1,4 dioxane passing through wastewater treatment plant systems too frequently. Reidsville, Greensboro, Burlington, Asheboro, and Sanford have been some of the highest polluters of 1,4 dioxane in the state. As the drinking water merger between Sanford and Pittsboro moves forward, we’ve still seen no mention of any advanced treatment to remove 1,4 dioxane from the finished drinking water that will be supplied to Pittsboro. With no standard, this will be hard to enforce. As Pittsboro continues to grow, Chatham Park continues to sell homes, and Disney plans to build 4000 more homes in the area, how will we ensure that we have access to safe drinking water for the communities that have already been here, and for the tens of thousands of new community members? Communities in the Haw have been exposed to toxic levels of these contaminants for too long.
– Haw Riverkeeper