May Day: An ancient celebration of spring. “Mayday” : an international distress call.
There will be lots of activity on significant environmental legislation today at the N.C. General Assembly:
Renewable Energy. Rep. Mike Hager will attempt to revive House Bill 298 repealing the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS). Earlier posts on the REPS bill can be found here and here. The bill will be back in the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee at noon. A motion to approve the bill failed in the same committee last week by a 5-vote margin, but the committee never voted to disapprove the bill. A story by John Murawski in today’s Raleigh News and Observer suggests little change in the lineup for and against the bill. Conservative political organizations (including Americans for Prosperity) and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist continue to push for repeal of the renewable energy standard as part of a national political strategy that has little to do with the costs and benefits of repeal in North Carolina. Some key House lawmakers still oppose the bill because the renewable energy standard has brought new private investment and jobs to the state. A Senate version of the REPS repeal bill (Senate Bill 365) will get a first hearing in the Senate Finance Committee today. Rarely does an issue so clearly require a legislator to choose between the state’s interest and a position being promoted by national political organizations.
Regulatory Reform. Senate Bill 612 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2013) will be up for a floor vote in the Senate this afternoon. See an earlier post on bill language essentially repealing Neuse and Tar Pamlico River buffer requirements and a more recent post about a provision requiring environmental agencies to repeal state rules that are more stringent than federal regulations on the same subject. (Putting those two proposals in the same bill is interesting all by itself since the Neuse and Tar Pamlico buffer rules are critical parts of federally required and federally approved state plans to reduce nutrient pollution in the two river systems. It appears that even a federal requirement may not be enough to save environmental rules in some cases.)
The idea that state environmental rules can simply track federal regulations really misreads federal environmental law. Senate Bill 612 assumes that federal agencies have adopted environmental regulations that can be simply picked up and applied by the state and that isn’t the case. Federal regulations alone would not, in most cases, be enough to make for a functioning environmental permitting program — or one that actually responds to the state’s needs. All federal environmental laws assume — and in many cases require — that individual states will tailor the federal program to address conditions in the state. (Since you won’t find estuaries in Arizona, that state’s Clean Water Act program does not look like North Carolina’s program.) This misunderstanding of the relationship between federal law and state environmental rules means the most likely outcome of the Senate Bill 612 repeal requirement will be conflict and confusion. It is unclear why the Senate chose to use a sledge-hammer rather than focus regulatory reform efforts on issues actually raised by citizens in comments to the Joint Committee on Regulatory Reform or through the rule review process created in G.S. 150B-19.2.
Water System Management. House Bill 488 (transferring the Asheville water system to the Buncombe County Metropolitan Sewer District) has come out of a conference committee to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. See an earlier post for background on the Asheville controversy. The Senate has approved the conference report; the conference report does not appear on today’s House calendar yet, but could be added. Note: The Buncombe County MSD had a major sewer spill yesterday; the details (such as cause and the total amount of raw sewage spilled to the French Broad River) are not yet clear. The spill caused me to look at House Bill 488 again and it turns out that the bill does not condition transfer of the Asheville water system on the MSD’s compliance with environmental standards or on actual transfer of the water system’s operating permit to the MSD.