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Water quality provision dropped from NC bill as it heads to House

Cape Fear River at Raven Rock State Park NC
Keith Weston

Environmental legislation that critics say might lead to water pollution could get a final vote in the House next week.

One of the most controversial provisions in this year’s regulatory reform bill was removed in the Senate last week. It would have stopped state regulators from setting what are known as numeric standards for PFAS and other chemicals until the EPA sets national standards.

That worried communities along the Cape Fear River that have been dealing with PFAS contamination from the Chemours chemical company’s plant near Fayetteville. Sen. Michael Lee — a Republican who represents New Hanover County which is bordered by the river — filed an amendment to delete that section.

"At this point, I think we might see some unintended consequences resulting from passing this provision," Lee said during the Senate floor debate. "And I think we need more time to find the appropriate balance."

The Senate also tweaked a provision that could speed up the permitting process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a proposed natural gas pipeline from Virginia to Alamance County. That language could still lead to the project getting automatic approval if the state Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t meet deadlines to act on the permit.

Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico and sponsor of the bill, said those changes were requested by the regulatory agency, which worried that the changes to the permitting process could run afoul of EPA rules. The new language would give DEQ more time to review a permit before it would get approved automatically. While the provision would apply to a variety of projects, Sanderson had told WUNC that it stemmed from concerns that the Mountain Valley Pipeline could get held up by regulators again.

The project had previously faced regulatory roadblocks in both Virginia and North Carolina, but recent action by Congress means the pipeline will likely proceed.

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.

Most Democrats in the Senate voted against the revised regulatory bill, and the measure is on the House’s calendar for next Wednesday. The rest of the lengthy bill deals with a variety of business regulation issues — everything from charity raffles to minor league baseball wages to signs.

The bill's most controversial provisions were added in the Senate, so the House will have the option to vote down the new version and launch negotiations between the two chambers. Or it could vote to send it to Gov. Roy Cooper as is.

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