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NC governor vetoes two bills over environmental concerns

NC Governor Roy Cooper in front of American flags at a podium
Steve Helber
This May 3, 2018, file photo, shows a section of downed trees that sit atop a ridge near homes along the route of the proposed Mountain Valley pipeline in Lindside, W.Va. A Virginia-based legal group is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to end what it says has become an abuse of eminent domain by companies that build natural-gas pipelines.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed two bills Monday that he says would be harmful to the environment.

One bill is a wide-ranging regulatory reform bill that would speed up environmental permits for projects like the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline. Another provision would change the regulations around hog waste lagoons, a move that opponents say could prevent state agencies from considering civil rights issues when they issue permits.

That bill would lead to "dirtier water, discriminatory permitting and threats to North Carolina’s environment," Cooper said.

He also objected to a provision that overturns regulations approved by the N.C. Department of Administration designed to help minority-owned businesses access state contracts.

"It also undoes a significant policy to promote fairness in state contracting for historically underutilized businesses as it blocks efforts to encourage diverse suppliers for state purchases, rules that would save taxpayer dollars and help businesses grow," Cooper said in a news release. "The rules mirror the successful approach used for 18 years in state construction contracting and they were enacted with extensive feedback."

The other bill vetoed Monday would make it easier for utility companies to use nuclear power to reach carbon reduction goals by using the term "clean energy" instead of "renewable energy" in state utility regulations.

That would mean more traditional power plants and less energy efficiency, Cooper said.

"North Carolina should consider all pathways to decarbonize, rather than putting a thumb on the scale in favor of building new conventional generation," he said.

Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus and sponsor of the bill, said the veto will be overridden.

"Gov. Cooper's hardline opposition to nuclear power is a slap in the face to North Carolina's energy industry," Newton said in a news release. "He would rather glorify the Green New Deal than strengthen energy production in our state."

Cooper signed seven other bills, including one that would require high school students to take computer science classes. That bill would also require pornographic websites to use age verification.

"Coding and technology skills are needed in nearly every industry today and adding a computer science requirement for high school graduation will help ensure students are better prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow," he said. "The age verification requirements to help protect children from online pornography are also important."

The governor declined to sign a bill that weakens the agency overseeing high school sports, but he'll let it become law.

The legislature is taking a break until next week, when it could vote to override Monday's vetoes and three other recent vetoes.

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