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NC Gov. Cooper vetoes farm bill over wetland pollution concerns

 This 2017 photo shows the Currituck Banks Reserve.
NC Wetlands
via Flickr
This 2017 photo shows the Currituck Banks Reserve. Gov. Roy Cooper says he vetoed a bill because it "severely weakens protection for wetlands means more severe flooding for homes, roads and businesses."

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed two bills Friday afternoon, one of which is the annual farm bill, which includes a variety of agriculture legislation. Cooper says one provision in the bill would weaken protections for wetlands and allow more pollution.

That provision would prevent state regulators from enacting wetlands rules that are stricter than federal regulations. The bill's sponsor has said state agencies can still regulate wetlands but need to request a change in state law.

Cooper blasted the change in a news release Friday.

"The provision in this bill that severely weakens protection for wetlands means more severe flooding for homes, roads and businesses and dirtier water for our people, particularly in eastern North Carolina," Cooper said. "This provision coupled with the drastic weakening of federal rules caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Sackett case, leaves approximately 2.5 million acres, or about one half of our state’s wetlands, unprotected."

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

The farm bill would also create stricter penalties for drivers who spill animal waste on roads and encourage public schools to serve muscadine grape juice.

Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson and the bill's sponsor, said in a news release that it received bipartisan support in the legislature.

"I am disappointed to see that Gov. Cooper is allowing politics to get in the way of supporting farmers," Jackson said. "His objection fails to consider our obligation to comply with federal law and regulations. The 2023 Farm Act ensures North Carolina is in compliance with federal laws."

The other vetoed bill would prevent state agencies from making investments designed to help the environment, part of a strategy known as ESG, or environmental, social, and governance criteria. Cooper says that would restrict the state treasurer's power to manage pension funds for state government retirees.

"For political reasons only, it unnecessarily limits the treasurer’s ability to make decisions based on the best interest of state retirees and the fiscal health of the retirement fund," Cooper said in a news release.

Republicans in the legislature likely have enough votes to override the vetoes.

Cooper allowed another controversial measure to become law without his signature. That bill would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances that limit the energy used in residential applications. It's a response to regulations in other states that ban the use of natural gas appliances in new construction.

The governor also signed seven other non-controversial bills into law on Friday.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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