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Public Hearing Draws Critics Of Proposed Environmental Changes

Neuse River
Dave DeWitt

A public hearing Tuesday at the General Assembly was dominated by speakers asking legislators not to roll back environmental protections.

The House Environment Committee scheduled the rare public comment session after the Senate made major changes to environmental regulations in one of its bills. House Bill 765 was originally a one-page bill that dealt with transporting gravel by truck.

Almost all of the speakers expressed a negative opinion of the provisions that would ease the environmental rules.

“We think these regulatory reforms are probably not in the best interests of anything of the creatures in the water,” said Jay Styron, an oyster farmer in Carteret County.

H765 and several other bills would ease development restrictions along rivers, prohibit implementation and enforcement of federal standards for wood heaters, and allow pigeon hunting, among many other changes.

Several speakers expressed concern over the proposal to eliminate a program that makes manufacturers of televisions and other electronics pay for local recycling programs.

“Taking that funding away will cause us to scramble to try to find a way to fund the program as is, or we will have to pass the cost on to residents,” said Joe Suleyman, the director of Environmental Management in New Hanover County.

Environmental advocates and researchers also spoke out against the bill. One of the provisions that drew their attention was one that would cut the number of air quality monitors in the state.

“Clean air is a right, not a privilege, for the citizens of North Carolina,” said Howard Neufeld, a professor of biology at Appalachian State. “And the state has an obligation to ensure that its citizens have the highest quality air that they breathe every day.”

Representative Pat McElraft said at the beginning of the meeting that the House would vote not to concur with the Senate version of H765. That means House and Senate leaders will now work out the details of the bill in a conference committee.

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