Two local Republican lawmakers said they hope to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of House Bill 56, a bill containing a series of environmental laws including regional funding for GenX research, at an upcoming legislative session next week.
The state legislature will convene Oct. 4, during which HB 56 could be brought to the floor. HB 56 was passed in August
and included -- among a large list of state environmental laws -- funding in the amount of $435,000 to the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) for research on GenX, an emerging chemical found in Wilmington area water and linked to the Chemours Co. operations in Fayetteville, in the Cape Fear River.
It also called for the development of an electronic filing system for industrial chemical discharge permits to improve the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) water-quality process.
Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill
Sept. 21, saying the measure fell short on necessary funding for regulators.
“Clean water is critical for our health and our economy and this legislation fails to appropriate any needed funds to the departments in state government charged with setting standards and enforcing laws to prevent illegal chemical discharges into rivers used for drinking water,” Cooper said in a statement this month about his veto. “In addition, it weakens protections from river pollution and landfills and repeals a local plastic bag ban supported by local governments and businesses that passed to protect the environment.”
Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) and Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) each said Friday they would support overriding the governor's veto at the upcoming session.
"As for HB 56, I am hopeful we overturn the governor’s veto," Lee said. "While HB 56 is not mutually exclusive with additional funding to DEQ, it is something we need to do now to give those on the front lines here in the Cape Fear Region the tools to be successful."
To address the regional water quality issue, Lee said his delegation is "looking at other measures that may need to be taken in the interim, and prior to the legislature’s regular session schedule that has us reconvening next year."
Davis said he would like to override the veto because it is a measure to address the region's water quality issue that would have its effects in the present.
“I would like to vote first and foremost, because it contains funding for UNCW and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority,” Davis said. “I don’t know if there is anything being done at this point to address the problem.”
While the two legislators are in support of the overturn, Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said she feels the opposite.
"I am not in support of [HB 56] because it will fall woefully short of what the state needs," Butler said. "I'm in support of giving recourses to the other agencies (UNCW and CFPUA), but not at the expense of funding the DEQ. They are the big guns."
"This is a crisis and folks are not … in my opinion, taking it seriously enough. Because if you were taking it seriously you would fund the watchdog. That is, the DEQ.”
Butler cited the backlog of permits and cuts in staff to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as her reasoning for supporting funding the agency.
Funding for the two agencies was addressed in a proposal by Cooper in August. The governor requested from the state legislature more than $2 million in emergency funding for DEQ and more than $530,000 for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). But the measure received pushback from some state lawmakers.
HB 56, she added, didn't address both local and statewide solutions that she would like to see for water quality issues in North Carolina.
On Thursday, Cooper issued a proclamation calling for a special session of the General Assembly at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 to consider the veto, as required by state law.
"HB 56 failed to address the concerns of families in the Cape Fear region and did nothing to protect drinking water for families statewide," a governor's spokesperson said. "Gov. Cooper will continue to urge legislators to provide state agencies with the tools they need to protect drinking water and work together to find a real solution to the challenge of emerging contaminants across the state."