Toxic legislation alert: SB 48

This diary is the first in (what I fear to be) a voluminous series of reports on specific environmentally damaging legislation put forward by the reckless GOP majority in the General Assembly:

AN ACT to allow the use of risk‑based remediation to ACCELERATE the cleanup of contaminated Industrial sites for the purpose of limiting human and environmental exposure to safe levels, to protect current and likely future uses of groundwater, and to ensure the cost‑effective application of limited public and private resources.

Much in the style of Congressional Republican bill writers, those who penned this wolf in sheep's clothing included a lot of decorative Orwellian happy talk to distract and mollify:

Whereas, the General Assembly finds that there are contaminated industrial sites in North Carolina, including land and other property, surface water, and groundwater, that are adversely affected by environmental contamination due to the presence of drilling waste; hazardous and toxic materials, substances, and wastes; solid waste; oil; and other wastes, contaminants, and regulated substances; and

Whereas, the General Assembly finds that the presence of environmental contamination on industrial sites creates both potential and actual harm to public health, safety, and welfare and to the environment; and

These are just a few of the numerous "findings" that pepper the intro to this legislation, ensuring that those who suffer from LADD (Legislation Attention Deficit Disorder), or are otherwise easily bored, cut their reading short and erroneously assume that all is well, and that our health and environment are in good hands.

But if they can make it this far with their reasoning still intact, a few flags should start waving:

Whereas, the General Assembly finds that the expenditure of public and private resources on unnecessary remediation could better be channeled to other purposes, including new development, renovation and repair, research and development, training and education, and other activities that maintain and enhance North Carolina's competitive position in the world and the excellent quality of life enjoyed by the citizens of North Carolina

This is an extensive piece of legislation and I'm not qualified to do a bit-for-bit analysis (little help?), but it appears the primary goal is to facilitate an end-run around both State and Federal laws governing the cleanup of former industrial sites, by authorizing "site-specific" evaluation and remediation, based on new (General Assembly-generated) standards in place of previously established and codified standards:

Site‑specific remediation standards shall be developed for each medium as provided in this subsection to achieve remediation that eliminates or reduces to protective levels any substantial present or probable future risk to human health, including sensitive subgroups, and the environment based upon the present or currently planned future use of the property comprising the site. Site‑specific remediation standards shall be developed in accordance with all of the following:

(1) Remediation methods and technologies that result in emissions of air pollutants shall comply with applicable air quality standards adopted by the Commission.

(2) The site‑specific remediation standard for surface waters shall be the water quality standards adopted by the Commission.

(3) The current and probable future use of groundwater shall be identified and protected. Site‑specific sources of contaminants and potential receptors shall be identified. Potential receptors must be protected, controlled, or eliminated whether the receptors are located on or off the site where the source of contamination is located. Natural environmental conditions affecting the fate and transport of contaminants, such as natural attenuation, shall be determined by appropriate scientific methods.

(4) Permits for facilities located at sites covered by any of the programs or requirements set out in G.S. 130A‑310.67(a) shall contain conditions to avoid exceedances of applicable groundwater standards adopted by the Commission pursuant to Article 21 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes due to operation of the facility.

(5) Soil shall be remediated to levels that no longer constitute a continuing source of groundwater contamination in excess of the site‑specific groundwater remediation standards approved under this Part.

There are additional directives, but the common thread binding them is the repeated reference to new (yet to be developed) standards emanating from the Environmental Management Commission, which is (of course) now under the majority control of the GOP.

And yes, they are well aware this will run up against Federal law as administered by the EPA:

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources shall make all reasonable efforts to obtain a written agreement from the United States Environmental Protection Agency that Part 8 of Article 9 of Chapter 130A of the General Statutes, as enacted by Section 2 of this act, is consistent with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, Public Law 96‑510, 94 Stat. 2767, 42 U.S.C. § 9601, et seq., as amended, and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, Public Law 99‑499, 100 Stat. 1613, as amended.

Final note: There are countless former industrial sites statewide with various levels of toxic contamination present, and each one presents a risk. Accelerating the cleanup of those sites might sound like a good idea, but it can (very easily) turn that risk into a toxic reality for the people and wildlife in the area.

Many of the remediation methods developed by the EPA and DENR are the result of failed and often disastrous cleanup efforts in the past. Even if this bill is well-intended, about which I have serious doubts, to discard lessons painfully learned and to rewrite a whole new book in their place, begs for those same mistakes to be made all over again. It's not only inefficient, it's foolish and criminally negligent, as well.

This bill should never be allowed to slink its way out of committee, much less be passed by the General Assembly at large. But if it does get that far, it needs to be literally covered with Veto stamps.


Children eating dirt

Here's an example of the type of "standards" we can expect from Republicans:

According to Cook, the bill would lower certain state standards for the cleanup of industrial sites, allowing remediation to proceed more rapidly than before.

“I think it’s very important that we have a clean environment,” he said. “The way the environmental-protection laws are in the state right now, though, there are situations where cleaning the grounds where some toxic substance has been spilled to the extent a child could eat the dirt and survive — we don’t need to clean it to that standard for certain situations.”