Governor quietly approves “Polluter Protection Act”

By: - October 26, 2015 12:26 pm


Advocacy groups mourn, explain what this means

Despite a secretive legislative process that allowed almost no public input and the widespread condemnation on the state’s newspaper editorial pages of the bill that emerged, Governor Pat McCrory quietly approved the badly misnamed “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015” late last Friday. The new state law, which environmental advocacy groups have come to refer to as the “Polluter Protection Act,” will bring about several important and potentially devastating changes to state environmental protection laws.

In the aftermath of Friday’s action, experts in several of the state’s environmental advocacy groups issued statements to voice their frustration and to explain what this means for North Carolina. Here are three of the most informative:

From the N.C. League of Conservation Voters:

“Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday left no doubt where he stands. By signing HB 765, the 2015 ‘rules reform’ bill now widely known as the Polluter Protection Act, McCrory acted to protect polluters at the cost of greatly increased danger to the health, clean water, and clean air of all North Carolinians.

‘We are greatly disappointed with Governor McCrory’s actions today. We had shared our concerns with the Governor, emphasizing that nothing in this bill was essential but much was harmful. We’re saddened to see our leadership give a green light to such egregious, anti-environmental actions,’ said Carrie Clark, Executive Director of NCLCV.

McCrory acted in spite of receiving more than 8,600 emails and hundreds of phone calls from concerned citizens urging him to veto the bill. A joint letter to McCrory from 15 citizen conservation organizations (including NCLCV) explained the bill’s dangers and urged a veto. Major newspapers around the state joined in editorializing against the bill.

‘This bill undoes so much of the progress our state has made in the last decade to clean up our air and water, build healthier communities, and create a stronger workforce. Now, using false claims that these regulations were holding back business, our Governor and legislative leaders have allowed polluters to have their way with our natural resources and the future prosperity of our state,’ remarked Dan Crawford, NCLCV Director of Governmental Relations. ‘Governor McCrory has simply reaffirmed his position of siding with corporate polluters over the interests of North Carolinians and the future of our state.’

As previously outlined in [the Weekly Conservation Bulletin], here are three of the worst problems created by this bill:

  • The bill’s ‘polluter protection’ provision (known euphemistically as the ‘environmental self-audit’) excuses permit-holders who violate environmental limits from civil penalties for their offenses, if they self-report the violations. This encourages carelessness by air and water pollution dischargers. And it lets the polluters keep evidence of the audit discovering the pollution secret from civil suits and the public.
  • The bill cuts back state protections for isolated wetlands and eliminates state protections for intermittent streams (streams which flow in an established channel but only for part of the year). These waters are critical to wildlife and to protecting clean water in other streams and rivers across the state throughout the year.
  • The bill will require the state’s air quality protection agency to shut down about half of its air quality monitors, creating willful blind spots in our monitoring network and making effective regulation of air pollution much more difficult.

HB 765 helps to ensure that environmental protection will be a major concern in the 2016 election cycle getting underway now.”

From the Southern Environmental Law Center:

“In a likely attempt to remain under the radar in the face of growing public opposition and editorials urging him to veto the bill, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory waited until Friday evening to sign into law House Bill 765, known to many as The Polluter Protection Act.

Even given the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to dismantle environmental protections in the state, this law stands out as a flagrant and extreme effort to remove basic safeguards that have kept North Carolina’s air and water clean for generations.

The law is a 71-page repeal that will result in more environmental damage than any bill passed in recent memory: air quality monitors will be dismantled, streams that ensure clean drinking water will be destroyed without mitigation, more polluted runoff will be allowed into coastal waters, and polluters will be allowed to regulate themselves through audits and hide information from the public.

‘Governor McCrory had the chance to stand up for the people of North Carolina by vetoing one of the most aggressive attacks on basic environmental protections ever seen in our state,’ said Derb Carter, director of SELC’s North Carolina office. ‘He failed to do so, and we are disappointed he remains in lockstep with the legislature in continuing to dismantle sensible protections for our air and water.

‘Citizens and public interest organizations across North Carolina had asked Governor McCrory to veto the so-called ‘Polluter Protection Act’ to protect our families, communities, public heath, clear air, and clean water.  Instead Governor McCrory has once again catered to polluters over people by signing this bill into law, which will result in dirtier air and water for our state.’”

From the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

Today, Governor McCrory signed H 765, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, into law.  H 765 was originally a one-provision bill regarding the transportation of gravel, but then morphed behind closed doors into a sixty-one page omnibus regulatory reform bill with many detrimental environmental provisions.

After the passage of H 765, Molly Diggins, state director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

‘H 765 may well be the worst environmental bill of McCrory’s three years as Governor, and yet he has made it law with his signature. The Governor missed an opportunity to stand up for clean air, clean water and healthy communities. He also missed the opportunity to stand up for transparency and public process.

‘The Governor had a chance to stand up for protections for our communities, but instead he sided with polluters and developers. By signing these environmental rollbacks into law, the Governor has shown that he is out of touch with most North Carolinians. Communities want protections for clean air and water. The people of this state know that you attract business and tourism by ensuring communities are clean and safe.

‘It has unfortunately become an annual practice by this administration to sign into law rollbacks to environmental protections, without any evaluation of the cumulative risks and impacts to North Carolina’s environment or public health. H 765 may be the worst example to date, both substantively and with respect to process.’”

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.