May 29, 2013:
Now that the May 16 cross-over deadline has come and gone, it is time to look at the bills that survived and the bills left on the battlefield. (Under House and Senate rules, most bills had to pass at least one chamber and “cross over” to the other by May 16 to remain eligible for consideration in the 2013-14 legislative session. There are exceptions for revenue bills, appropriation bills, redistricting bills and constitutional amendments.) I am going to focus on some of the most significant environmental bills; you can find a complete list of bills that survived cross-over here.
The Bills Left Behind
The two environmental bills that received the most attention earlier in the session, but failed to reach a floor vote were House Bill 298 and its Senate counterpart (Senate Bill 365). With the support of a number of conservative political organizations — including Americans for Prosperity — the bills proposed to repeal the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS). An earlier post talked about the politics of the renewable energy standard and the practical problem the bill presented for Republican legislators. The tension between the practical (jobs) and the political (conservative opposition to support for renewable energy) played out in both the House and the Senate committees. In the end, neither bill got all of the committee approvals needed to get to a floor vote.
Some other environmental bills that failed to make cross-over:
Senate Bill 679 would have halted reductions in groundwater withdrawals from two depleted aquifers in the Central Coastal Plain, maintaining withdrawals at current levels. In the 15 Central Coastal Plain counties, state rules have required large water users to gradually reduce withdrawals from the Upper Cape Fear and Black Creek aquifers by as much as 75% to allow the aquifers to recover. The bill proposed to cap the required reductions in water withdrawals at 25% unless groundwater in the aquifers dropped below 2012 levels.
House Bill 770 would have suspended enforcement of state and local water quality rules for the Falls Lake watershed rules for two years and required a study of alternatives to the nutrient rules.
House Bill 983 proposed to designate red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass as coastal game fish. The game fish bill has become a flashpoint in an ongoing tug of war between recreational fishermen (who want the game fish designation as a way to prevent over-fishing of the species through use of commercial nets and trawls) and commercial fishermen (who don’t).
Technically, all of the bills above are dead for the 2013-2014 legislative session. BUT there are ways around the cross-over rule. One way to revive a dead legislative proposal is to put the language into another bill — one that is still eligible for adoption. One reason to read bills very carefully in the last few weeks of a legislative session.
Bills that Made the Cross-Over Deadline
Among the environmental bills still eligible for adoption:
House Bill 74 creates a complicated process for review of existing state rules — potentially leading to automatic repeal of environmental rules that are not readopted on a schedule set by the state’s Rules Review Commission. An earlier post talks about House Bill 74 and its Senate counterpart (Senate Bill 32). The Senate bill never got to the Senate floor for a vote.
House Bill 94 (Amend Environmental Laws 2013) has a number of relatively minor changes to environmental laws. Many, but not all, of the changes were recommended by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. One change to note — the bill again extends the deadline for some underground petroleum storage tanks located near water supply wells or high quality surface waters to have secondary containment. Since 2001, secondary containment has been required for new tanks installed within 500 feet of a public water supply well or within 100 feet of a private well. Secondary containment is also required for tanks located within 500 feet of shellfish waters and other water bodies with exceptional water quality. For tanks installed between 1991 and 2001, House Bill 94 would extend the deadline for providing secondary containment to 2020.
House Bill 300 gives coastal cities clear authority to deal with nuisance situations on the beach. (Similar language appears in Senate Bill 151.) An earlier post describes the court case that prompted the legislation.
House Bill 628 would prohibit new state building projects from seeking a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification as environmentally sustainable and energy efficient under standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED certification is entirely voluntary; the Green Building Council does not have any regulatory authority.) An earlier post explains the North Carolina forest products industry concern about the Green Building Council’s LEED sustainability standard for wood.
House Bill 938 deals with wetlands and stream mitigation. The bill legislatively sets the mitigation value for isolated wetlands at 1/3 the value of wetlands adjacent to surface waters. The bill also establishes the mitigation value of intermittent streams at 1/3 the functional value of a perennial stream. The changes would reduce the amount of mitigation required by the state for development projects that impact isolated wetlands and intermittent streams.
House Bill 1011 is the new bill that changes appointments to a number of state boards and commissions, including the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) and the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC). The bill is a House replacement for Senate Bill 10 — the original board and commission reorganization bill — which crashed and burned when the House refused to adopt a negotiated compromise between House and Senate versions of the bill. Note: Senate Bill 402 (the budget bill) has similar EMC and CRC appointment language.
Senate Bill 76 makes a number of changes to the Mining and Energy Commission, the state Energy Policy Council and laws on oil and natural gas production. One of the most significant changes would allow certain types of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing to be injected into deep wells for disposal. State law has not allowed underground injection of any type of wastewater since the 1970s. See an earlier post for more background on underground injection of waste.
Senate Bill 112 ( Amend Environmental Laws 2013). The Senate bill contains some things not found in the House version including a section allowing material from land clearing and right of way maintenance to be taken off site and burned without an air quality permit.The current law requires a permit for open burning off-site unless the material is taken to a permitted air curtain burner.
Senate Bill 151 makes changes to fisheries laws and, like House Bill 300, clarifies local government authority in public trust areas. The bill also makes significant changes to the law allowing construction of terminal groins to stabilize inlets at the North Carolina coast. After prohibiting permanent erosion control structures for nearly 40 years, the General Assembly amended state law in 2011 to allow construction of terminal groins at inlets. The 2011 legislation only allowed construction of four terminal groins as a pilot project. Senate Bill 151 removes the limit on the number of terminal groins permitted even though no groins have been built yet — and no new information on groin impacts provided by the pilot project. The bill repeals language allowing the use of a terminal groin only if the shoreline cannot be stabilized in other ways. The bill also weakens protection of nearby property owners; the bond required for groin construction would no longer cover property damage.
Senate Bill 341 makes changes to the interbasin transfer law that requires state approval to move water from one river basin to another. (Transfer of 2 million gallons per day or more requires a certificate from the state’s Environmental Management Commission.) For the most part, the bill simplifies the approval process for: modification of an existing interbasin transfer; new interbasin transfers to provide water to offset reductions in groundwater withdrawals in the Central Coastal Plain Capacity Use Area; and new interbasin transfers in certain coastal counties.
Senate Bill 515 would repeal state water quality rules that require reductions in the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to Jordan Lake and its tributaries and set up a legislative study to identify alternative ways to protect water quality in the reservoir. This post provided background on Jordan Lake’s pollution problems and the history of the rules that Senate Bill 515 would repeal.
Senate Bill 612 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2013) would generally require state environmental programs to repeal or change environmental standards that go beyond requirements of a federal rule on the same subject. See this earlier post for more detail on what the change or repeal requirement could mean. Note: A section of Senate Bill 612 repealing the Neuse River and Tar-Pamlico River stream buffer rules was removed from the bill before Senate adoption.
Senate Bill 638, among a number of other things, would eliminate the need for a water quality permit to fill or discharge waste to a wetland that is not considered “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. See an earlier post for more background.