The Pulse

Plastics, natural gas and substation attacks: environmental bills to watch this week

By: - February 20, 2023 10:00 am
(Collage by Lisa Sorg)

With Medicaid, guns and anti-LGBT legislation consuming lawmakers’ time, only a few environmental bills have been introduced this session. The pace usually picks up — a gut-and-amend bill here, an ambush provision there — so enjoy the relative quiet while you can.

That said, here are several bills worth watching this week as they emerge (or wither) in committee.

Regulatory reform 

There are no extra taxes, no mandates, no regulations — only voluntary incentives — yet previous versions of House Bill 28, the Managing Environmental Waste Act, have never become law.

“What we’re trying to address here .. with no additional funding from the state … is a public commitment to migrate away from using plastics,” State Rep. Harry Warren, a Rowan County Republican told the House Environment Committee earlier this month. “If it became law, North Carolina would be a leader in reducing plastics.”

The House passed this bill — twice, in 2019 and 2021 — by unanimous, or near-unanimous votes. The Senate, though, never brought it to a floor vote and instead let it die in committee.

The measure reallocates a portion of existing landfill fees — 5% of the 12.5% that goes to the state General Fund — to cities and counties that use plastics recycling programs. The language contains basic reporting requirements, as well as a study that would evaluate the opportunities for state agencies to phase out single-use plastics: utensils, plates and cups.

The plastic problem can’t be overstated. It takes up space in landfills, clogs streams, adds to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Its manufacturing process uses and discharges toxic chemicals, including those in the tanker cars that recently burned and contaminated the environment in East Palestine, Ohio.

  • Globally, 400 million tons of plastic is manufactured each year.
  • Of the 40 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2021, only 5% to 6% — or about two million tons — was recycled, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • Plastic accounts for 85% of all marine trash.
  • Also problematic: micro plastics, which are present in rivers, streams — including the Neuse River Basin — as well as sea spray. Fish and other aquatic life eat the particles, filling their guts in place of food. People might unknowingly drink those plastic particles in water flowing from their taps.

At the House Environment Committee meeting, there was a concern that plastics made with “post-use polymers or recovered feedstock processed at an advanced recycling facility” counted as recyclable. “I’m skeptical of chemical recycling,” State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said. “It opens up the door to a toxic process. I appreciate the intent but the wording is problematic.”

The bill, including the problematic language, passed out of the Environment Committee.

“We can do much better we can take responsibility like private industry has,” Rep. Warren said. “If you aren’t tripping over it, you may not realize impact plastics are having on the world.”

Wednesday, 11 a.m.
Room 1228/1327 of the Legislative Building
Livestream at

Energy and public utilities

Gov. Cooper vetoed the original bill in 2021, but with more conservatives in the legislature to increase the odds of an override, Rep. Dean Arp is resurrecting “Preserving Choices for Consumers,” tantamount to a giveaway to the natural gas industry. The American Gas Association wrote the model legislation for the earlier legislation and the current measure, House Bill 130, which would prohibit cities and counties in North Carolina from adopting ordinances to limit the expansion of (or connections to) natural gas service.

That includes “renewable natural gas,” a broad term that encompasses emissions from landfills and concentrated animal feeding operations — CAFOs.

Both the old bill and the new one also forbid local governments from restricting hydrogen as a fuel source in private developments. Why is hydrogen lumped in with natural gas? Because “blue hydrogen” uses that fossil fuel, whereas “green hydrogen” does not.

No local governments in North Carolina have banned any fuel sources in private residences, commercial buildings or industry. “This legislation is to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Arp said in March 2021, when he introduced the bill that session.

There are still a lot of questions about House Bill 21, also known as the Energy Security Act of 2023. Rep. Ben Moss Jr., a Republican representing Moore and Richmond counties, filed it response to the recent attacks on Duke Energy substations in Moore and Randolph counties. It requires public utilities to provide security systems at substations to protect against vandalism and other security threats, as well as to operate security systems 24/7. 

There is still no provision for the type of security — cameras? armed guards? — nor how much these upgrades would cost and who would pay for them. Ratepayers, for example, or shareholders, or both.

Tuesday, 2 p.m.
Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.
Livestream at

Disaster recovery and homeland security

House Bill 119

With thousands of disaster survivors still living in motels after Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Hurricane Florence (2018), lawmakers are trying to expedite returning people to their homes. This provision allows the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, also known as ReBuild NC, to use an informal bid process for projects costing up to $250,000. The previous figure was $30,000.

Lawmakers hope this will allow ReBuild NC to more quickly recruit contractors, and in turn more quickly build or repair hurricane-damaged homes.

The informal bid process still requires that “all such contracts shall be awarded to the lowest responsible, responsive bidder, taking into consideration quality, performance, and the time specified in the bids for the performance of the contract.” However, even under a more rigorous contracting process ReBuild NC has failed to apply the “responsible bidder” requirement. Exhibit A: Rescue Construction Solutions, which won $80 million in contracts, failed to deliver homes in time, and whose agreement with ReBuild NC was extended for another year.

Homeowners have told Policy Watch that their modular homes — Rescue won that entire bid package — have been recently reassigned to another contractor. Some homeowners aren’t getting modulars after all; instead, they are now receiving traditional stick-built homes.

Why? Policy Watch asked these questions on Dec. 13. Despite multiple requests for information, we’ve received none.

Wednesday, 1 p.m.
Room 1228/1327 of the Legislative Building
Livestream at

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.