Cooper blocks legislation that would aid GenX removal in Cape Fear River

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday he will veto legislation that would have funded local efforts to research and remove the chemical GenX from the Cape Fear River on the basis of underfunding. 

House Bill 56 allocated $250,000 to UNC-Wilmington for research of GenX, and a total of $185,000 to the Cape Fear River Public Utility Authority to treat and monitor the water supply. The bill also included 19 changes to environmental law, including the repeal of the ban of plastic bags in the Outer Banks.

Cooper said in a statement his decision to veto was due to the lack of funding for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. Together, the agencies requested $2.6 million to hire new experts to address pollutants.

“(House Bill 56) gives the impression of action while allowing the long-term problem to fester,” Cooper said. “And it unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections for landfills, river basins and our beaches.”

Molly Diggins, the state director of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, said GenX is an emerging contaminant, meaning it is not well studied or well regulated. Diggins said funding for state agencies is crucial since water supplies across North Carolina are susceptible to emerging contaminants.

“There are a universe of emerging contaminants that are already appearing in other drinking supplies for which we also need standards,” she said. “We’re not only talking about emerging contaminants, we’re talking about an emerging problem for the whole state.”

At the local level, emerging contaminants are of great concern to residents. Wyatt Woodson, a first-year UNC-Chapel Hill student from Wilmington, said his family began to avoid tap water after they learned GenX might be present in it.

“It affected us with a lot of paranoia,” he said.

Republicans in the state legislature said Cooper’s request for state funding was an attempt to grow the state bureaucracy. They seek to override his veto in the legislature’s next session Oct. 4. 

“Shame on Gov. Cooper for vetoing a local solution, developed by this region’s local representatives, to immediately improve water quality for their constituents, neighbors and own families — simply because it did not achieve his preferred objective of growing a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis,” N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

Jamie DeWitt, an East Carolina University toxicology professor, said she disagreed with the legislature’s omission of state funding. She said an increase in funding to the NCDHHS and NCDEQ is essential for new standards and regulations to be instituted.

“If we don’t have state agencies to put into practice the information that is deemed from my academic studies, it doesn’t do much good," she said. "The money needs to be spread out at an appropriate level, so information and regulation go hand in hand.”

For now, Diggins said North Carolina is lagging behind in its capability to research and control emerging contaminants like GenX.

“This is a leadership opportunity for the state legislature," she said. "If we chose to, we could have the best program in the country to deal with this universe of potentially harmful chemicals, but right now we have none.”


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