GenX funds approved, committees announced

The General Assembly approved funding for clean up of Cape Fear water supplies last week while also announcing select committees that will investigate GenX pollution and flawed response of local and state authorities.

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Speaker of the House Tim Moore calls for a recess during a fifth special session of the General Assembly on Wednesday

RALEIGH — North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) announced Thursday the formation of a House Select Committee to investigate the GenX pollution of the Cape Fear River. The committee is made up of members of the Environmental Review Commission (ERC) as well as several coastal representatives whose districts have been affected by the water contamination.

“We need to make sure we have safe, reliable water out there for folks to drink,” said Moore during a Thursday press conference. “When it comes to the environment and pollution, it’s just nothing to play around with.”

The committee, chaired by Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), will focus on finding solutions for GenX as wella s examining why communications about the risks to the public were delayed for so long. Members indicated the committee may make recommendations to the broader ERC to put before the legislature.

“People need to know that the legislature is going to be proactive to address this problem,” said Davis of the committee’s formation.

The N.C. Senate formed a similar committee to investigate the matter.

The announcement came on the heels of the passage of House Bill 56, which included funding for the cleanup, monitoring, and study of GenX pollution. The legislation generated significant debate along party lines Thursday with Democrats arguing it is not enough funding for a comprehensive statewide solution, and Republicans imploring the body that it is a necessary first step to address the problems in the Cape Fear region.

“It is time for us to broaden our inquiry to address all of these unknown pollutants,” said Rep. Deb Butler (D-Brunswick). “By focusing on this chemical alone, we are overlooking the big picture…While the Cape Fear region is the focus today, my fear is it’s only a matter of time before this crisis rears its ugly head in your district.”

The legislation offers nearly $200,000 to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority for cleanup and monitoring. Additionally, it will offer $250,000 in funds for the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) to conduct a comprehensive study on GenX and other presently unknown pollutants.

Many Democrats pointed to financial constraints at the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as contributing to the problem, stemming from the legislature’s refusal to grant more than $2 million in extra funding for DEQ as requested by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) for monitoring and permitting.

However, Republican House members pointed out that while H.B. 56 was merely the first step in addressing GenX pollution, immediate funding should not be an issue since funds are currently available to the governor for such emergencies.

“Right now the governor has sitting in what’s called the [Contingency and Emergency Fund] $1.8 million that he can use right now for any of these programs,” reiterated Speaker Moore at the press conference. “It doesn’t need to be transferred there, it’s literally just sitting there.”

Further, Republican members stressed that the initial funds were necessary for immediate cleanup efforts.

“GenX in the water in the Cape Fear region is something that needs to be fixed now,” said Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) of funding the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority for immediate clean up. “They have a plan. They have a plan to get the GenX out of the water. That is what my constituents want. They are afraid. They are afraid for their families; they’re afraid for themselves; they’re afraid for their pets…The money that is in this conference report is a good start.”

During floor debate Republicans emphasized that the approach Democrats were lobbying for would simply take too long to address the immediate clean up needs faced by the Cape Fear River region, and that even the most robust monitoring programs will not fix the current problem of GenX pollution.

“This is a starting point, it’s not an end point, it’s a starting point for addressing the situation,” said Rep. Scott Stone (R-Mecklenburg), and environmental engineer. “[Democrats] seem to not want to take that first step in dealing with it. We need to start this process now; we cannot wait.”

Democrats also objected to other provisions of the bill that would lift coastal plastic bag bans that apply to select coastal districts, as well as changes to local landfill laws.

Ultimately though, with H.B. 56 awaiting the governor’s signature and the formation of select committees to investigate GenX, the legislature has begun the GenX response in earnest.