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Environmental Groups Urge Veto Of 'Sweeping Changes'

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Environmental groups are urging Governor Pat McCrory to veto a bill they've nicknamed the Polluter Protection Act. Officials in McCrory's own environmental department have also said they oppose parts of the bill.

What started as a one-page bill on transporting gravel morphed into 61-page bill that overhauls a variety of state regulations. The final version emerged with only a few days left in the legislative session, and it passed with mostly Republican support.

Grady McCallie is policy director with the North Carolina Conservation Network.

"It punches a bunch of holes in environmental protections that North Carolinians and our communities rely on," he says.

That includes cutting the number of state air quality monitors, repealing a limit on how long heavy duty trucks can idle and changing standards for cleaning up groundwater contamination.

McCallie says the bill also allows companies to get away with environmental problems as long as they catch it first. 

"If a company violates an environmental standard or law and they self-report to the Department of Environmental Quality on that, they are exempt from civil penalties for that violation," he says. "They're not necessarily exempt from criminal penalties, but then most violations don't draw criminal penalties."

The Conservation Network and 14 other environmental groups sent McCrory a letter asking him to veto it.

The state's environmental department raised its own concerns about an earlier version of the bill. In a letter to lawmakers, environmental officials said changes to stormwater requirements, for example, would have "a large impact" on coastal developments "in some of our most sensitive waters."

State lawmakers who support the bill declined our interview requests. Senate leaders have previously touted "sweeping changes to the state's burdensome regulatory environment that cut red tape that chokes off economic growth."