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Environmental organizations react to provisions in state regulatory reform bill

Outside the North Carolina Legislative Building fountains and flags are seen on Monday April 24, 2023.

The N.C. General Assembly's Republican majority overruled Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of House Bill 600 on Oct. 10.

H.B. 600, or the Regulatory Reform Act of 2023, would affect environmental provisions for pipeline companies, as well as the hog and poultry industries.

“Every year since the Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011, they've had a regulatory reform bill, and regulatory reform, according to them, is taking away regulations on businesses — often at the expense of the environment,” Brooks Rainey Pearson, legislative counsel at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said.

According to a press release from the law center, provisions in the Regulatory Reform Act would violate parts of the federal Clean Water Act.

Another proposed provision in the bill would limit the state’s ability to prohibit toxic chemicals, such as PFAS, the law center said. 

“This bill is a hodgepodge of bad provisions that will result in dirtier water, discriminatory permitting and threats to North Carolina’s environment," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release. 

He said the bill undoes policy to promote fairness in state contracting for historically underutilized businesses because it blocks efforts to encourage diverse suppliers for state purchases. 

Rainey Pearson said the bill cuts away at regulations that exist to protect North Carolina residents. 

"There's this false idea that we can have a strong economy or a clean environment but not both, and that is a false choice and it's [been] proven over and over not to be true,” Rainey Pearson said.

Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper for the Haw River Assembly, said advocates against the bill are specifically worried about Section 7.1 of the bill. 

Sutton said this provision would only allow the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality 90 days to review the roughly 75-mile extension of Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate, a natural gas pipeline that would stretch into Rockingham and Alamance counties.

“The DEQ doesn't have the amount of time that it would need to have grounds to deny a permit, and also our communities don't have the time that they need to really understand the impacts of this project,” she said. 

She said one section would make it difficult for the NCDEQ to deny permits for energy transmission projects.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has applied for a permit that would allow it to cross through waterways, Sutton said. She said the organization working to develop the pipeline has been denied the permit two times. 

The bill states that the NCDEQ would only have 30 days to decide whether to deem a 401 permit complete for an energy transmission project, Sutton said.

"And so when we have these major energy transmission projects, the permits themselves are hundreds, if not thousands of pages of very technical information," she said. "So for an agency that's already at, I think they're at 60 percent capacity right now, that is an impossible ask for them to spend 30 days to determine whether or not this application is complete." 

If the department does not finish the reviewing process, the 401 permit would automatically be granted complete, according to Sutton.

Grady O’Brien, policy associate at the North Carolina Conservation Network, said provisions in the bill would affect stormwater laws, regulations for animal waste systems on farms and civil rights laws.

“There's a whole host of things in this bill that environmentally would be negative, and it's not just one particular thing,” O’Brien said.

Sutton said she thinks the bill will become law at the beginning of November. 

"And so when MVP Southgate submits their 401 application, that's when the clock starts,” Sutton said.

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