Legislative Updates: Week of April 10th

The North Carolina General Assembly experienced a big shift last week, when Representative Trisha Cotham switched from democrat to republican. This has happened before in North Carolina, most notably when Representative Jim Black bribed Representative Micheal Decker with $50,000 in an IHop in 2006. But this shift means the Governor will no longer have the power to veto bills that are passed by the Republican leadership in the General Assembly. 

With that in mind, there have been several bills introduced in the past week that would significantly roll back environmental protections in our state.

Though it takes a long process for bills to become laws, and bills may only be heard in committees and never move to a vote, it is a worthwhile effort for YOU to call or email your representatives to educate them on these bills and let them know that this would have serious implications for the places that you care about. It will be a lot harder for the representatives we’ve come to rely on to move good bills and stop bad bills on their own. Your representatives need to hear from you. 

This type of direct action really works. Last week, we discussed a bad bill that would allow development of residential homes in industrial areas. Because some of the representatives on the bill heard from their own constituents who did not approve of the bill, the bill was blocked by Senator Rabon. 

House Bill 579 – Amend Certain DEQ/EPA Agreements/Proceedings

This bill would eliminate the permitting process for local programs to require sedimentation and erosion control permits for new developments. The NCG01 permit, authorized by the state but required by EPA, is a bare minimum permit that is often rubber stamped for approvals. Currently, developments require both permit processes, and the local program permit is where thorough evaluation is done to determine if stormwater control measures or erosion control devices will be adequate. This bill would require only the NCG01, which could also eliminate jobs within local programs. 

This bill would also eliminate any environmental stakeholders from the State Sedimentation Control Commission. This commission, which Emily currently sits on, reviews local sediment and erosion control programs and revokes their authority if they are not adequately protecting water resources and have multiple sites out of compliance. The commission would be primarily homebuilders, contractors, and designers, which is like having a group of foxes in charge of security in a hen house. 

S.B. 744, Environmental Permitting Reforms

S.B. 684, Stormwater Program Revisions

S.B. 686, Regulatory Reform Act of 2023

S.B. 582, North Carolina Farm Act

The Environmental Permitting Reform and Stormwater Program Revisions bills would deem any permit issued by default if NC Department of Environmental Quality does not issue or deny the permit within a very constrained time period. This bill comes at a time when NCDEQ is severely understaffed and the budgets are continually cut. The bill also limits the amount the agency can charge for permit reviews. Rather than giving the state agency the tools they need, they are deeming permits granted if NCDEQ can’t adequately manage the increasing workload with fewer staff. 

The Regulatory Reform Act would eliminate vegetative buffer requirements on developments, as long as the stormwater control measures discharge treated stormwater through a segment of vegetative buffer. This bill would also allow developers to exceed density limits by treating the increased stormwater. Minimizing the volume and decreasing the velocity of stormwater runoff is the only way to protect the receiving streams. 

All three of these bills would define state wetlands as restricted to what the federal government determines as a “Water of the United States” or WOTUS. That term has been argued since the Obama administration. In North Carolina, our own state rules added waters to that protection to cover isolated wetlands. This would eliminate that protection. All three pieces of legislation need to have this provision removed in order to protect our waterways, avoid flood risks, and preserve the flood protection values of wetlands. 

S.B. 658, Water Safety Act of 2023

This bill grants the NC Policy Collaboratory funds to conduct research on PFAS. $20 million would go into research for PFAS containing firefighting foams (AFFF), included a buyback program, but would also construct the training site using PFAS foams to research the personal exposure risks for firefighters and their families when they are exposed to this toxin. 

S.B. 673, Water and Wastewater Regulatory Relief Act

This bill seeks to eliminate regulatory processes that have limited development based on wastewater capacity. This bill would make inter-basin transfers easier and have less regulatory requirements. It would also allow increased use for water withdrawals and discharges that exceed the existing capacity.

What is happening at the General Assembly and how does that affect our watershed?

Written by Emily Sutton

This week, Hannah and I held a lobby day in Raleigh with two Haw River Assembly members. We had a packed schedule and managed to meet with four representatives and briefly speak with three others: Representatives John Faircloth (R), Ashton Clemmons (D), and Pricey Harrison (D) of Guilford County, Senator Amy Galey (R) of Alamance County, Senator Natalie Murdock (D) of Chatham County, Senator Graig Meyer (D) of Orange County, and Representative Vernetta Alston (D) of Durham County.

The legislative buildings were buzzing with the latest drama within the General Assembly, in which a Democratic representative from Mecklenburg County, Trisha Cotham, flipped to join the Republican Caucus. This has spurred protests and calls for resignation from her constituents, but in Raleigh, the implications of this switch made a significant change. The Republican party now has enough members of its caucus to have a veto-proof majority, which means if the Governor vetoes a bill, they have enough votes to override his veto.

Haw River Assembly’s Lobby day

Our goals for this lobby day were to educate legislative members on specific bills that are currently active in the legislature, and how they impact our members and their constituents. Those bills, and our concerns, are summarized here.

Oppose or Amend

  • H349 Firefighter PFAS Management/Research
    • This bill would have a voluntary buy back program for PFAS containing firefighting foams, but would also purchase a firefighting training facility in Stanley County where firefighters would use the PFAS containing firefighting foam to conduct health research on firefighters and their families. This bill would use real people to assess the health risks of a known toxin. This research would then open the door to more research grants, at the expense of the firefighters and their families’ health.
      • This bill endangers the health of firefighters. This research can be conducted using fluorine free foams to test their effectiveness. The research has been done to show the harm of these foams on communities, and this facility should focus on moving towards the transition to PFAS-free foams. 
    • Currently in Committee on Appropriations, then Rules if favorable
  • SB317– Workforce Housing 
    • This bill aims to address a huge concern among essential staff for larger cities like Raleigh and Durham, where their firefighters, police officers, teachers, and nurses can’t afford to live in the cities they work in. The issue of affordable housing is a problem. This bill would allow developers to buy 10 acres of land for housing, as long as 20% of those homes meet the 80% average meeting income level. These housing developments would not be subject to many zoning ordinances held by local governments, which could include industrial zoning requirements or watershed buffer zoning requirements. In order to make a profit, developers can develop cheaper land in industrial zones, endangering the health of vulnerable communities, or develop land otherwise that would be otherwise restricted in watershed buffer zones. Affordable housing is a dire need, but this bill could result in vulnerable families living adjacent to industrial polluters.
      • This bill needs to be amended to clarify zoning concerns to prevent housing in industrial zones and protected buffer zones. 
    • Currently in Rules and Operations on Senate


  • H370 Responsible Firefighting Foam Management Act
    • Bans firefighting foams in training and prevents the discharge of those foams into the environment – unless authorized for testing purposes at a testing facility. Requires training to be conducted regarding the collection of spent foam. 
    • Currently in Committee on Environment
  • SB350 2023 Safe Drinking Water Act
    • Requires Committee for Public Health to establish Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for probable or known carcinogens including PFAS, 1,4- dioxane, and Hexavalent Chromium -6. 
      • This is a great bill and a much needed step in the right direction. However, it must be paired with legislation to target the pollution at the source in order to provide local drinking water providers with the tools they need to hold the polluters responsible and not bear the brunt of the financial burden of adhering to these MCLs. 
    • Currently in Rules and Operations on Senate
  • HB416 Environmental Justice Considerations.
    • Amends permit requirements to include the ability to require permits to be denied if cumulative impacts would have disproportionate impact on environmental justice communities. Applies to mining, solid waste management, significant expenditures of state money, projects on public lands, developments, hazardous waste facilities, industrial animal agriculture, air contaminants, and any expanding facilities.
    • Currently in Rules, Calendar, Operations Committee
  • HB511 Enhance Urban Stormwater Management 
    • Requires stormwater control measures for redeveloped property for all increased impervious surfaces, with the exception of small scale single family residential developments. 
    • Currently in Local Government- Land Use, Planning, Development
  • HB28 NC Managing Environmental Waste Act of 2023
    • Provides additional funding to clean up Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites and solid waste management programs with plastics recycling programs. Requires state facilities to use recyclable, compostable products for food service ware, or no disposable single use plastics. Commissions a study to examine all impacts of plastic pollution, effectiveness of plastics recycling, new technologies for plastic waste reduction, and others. 
    • Currently in Regulatory Reform
  • HB279 Break Free from Plastics and Forever Chemicals
    • Requires producers to register and provide any information about plastics packaging, issues costs associated with end of life disposal of plastics, requires statewide education and outreach about proper recycling or disposal of plastics. Bans manufacturer and distribution of any PFAS in packaging materials. Gives authority to NC DEQ to issue fines for improper hazardous waste disposal for toxic substances for violations of this bill. 
    • Currently in Rules, Calendar, Operations

What’s Next?

Haw River Assembly will continue to work with legislators to move strong legislation, stop bad legislation, and educate legislative members on important issues to get bills drafted. Outside of active bills, we have policy goals that we continue to work towards. Download that list of policies here. Contact your representatives about the bills above and keep up with our newsletters to join our next lobby day!

Posted in From The River: Blog

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