Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raleigh taking nominations for environment awards

The City of Raleigh is now taking nominations of individuals and organizations for the Environmental Awards Program. To be eligible, and individual must be a resident of Raleigh or its extra territorial jurisdiction (ETJ); an organization must operate withing Raleigh or its ETJ. Information about the awards and the 10 award categories can be found here. An on-line entry form can be found here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Possible problems with transit

Ann, one commenter on my last post, on benefits of public transportation, pointed out that in order for public transportation to improve the environment people must get out of their cars and take transit to work or other destination. If people continue to drive cars rather than taking the bus or train, the transit program will not aid the environment.

Richard P. predicted (to paraphrase) "if you build it, they will come". Specifically, he asked why someone would want to drive a car, pay for gas, etc. when they could take transit.

I agree that transit make sense. I take the bus or train whenever I can. However, many people still want to stay in their cars. They always have an excuse - they are too busy to wait for the next bus, they need more flexibility, etc.

However, if the bus or train to not go near a person's destination, there is no reason for that person to use the bus or train.

It is important that the transit system being designed for Wake County provide acceptable service for as many people as possible. Buses will need to go to most of the job locations and by as many houses as possible.

The environmental benefits depend upon a transit system that succeeds to get a large number of people out of their cars and onto public transportation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A benefit of public transportation

One way that more public transit will help to improve the environment is the reduction in gasoline used to power personal cars and the reduction in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, produced by cars. Buses, of course, burn oil and produce carbon dioxide. But, compared to personal cars, they produce far less per person, assuming that more than a very few people are on the bus.

Light rail will produce even less pollution and consume less energy per person.

A less obvious way that public transportation reduces pollution and gasoline consumption is the reduction of road congestion. Cars burn gasoline and produce pollution while waiting at an intersection or waiting to turn onto a busy street. If congestion is reduced by drivers giving up their cars for a bus or train, oil consumption and production of CO2 and other pollution will be reduced.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transit - Good for the environment?

We have heard much, particularly in the Triangle, recently about transit. The NC General Assembly has passed legislation that will allow the Triangle counties (Wake, Durham, and Orange) to increase sales tax by one/half cent per dollar to provide for light rail and bus service. Many of us in the environmental community were in favor of the enabling legislation. The next step is for the county commission to place a transit and tax proposal on the ballot (during a regular election) and for the people to approve the proposal. Many people assume that all of us in the environmental community will support the adoption of the tax and the transit enhancements. Maybe… but maybe not.

Public transportation does offer advantages over cars. The light rail and even the bus will produce far less pollution and green house gases than cars (per passenger mile). Less oil will be imported.

However, the savings from public transportation only works if people use it. To clean the air people must stop driving their car and start using the transportation for at least some of their travel. Will they?

If there were no cost to the proposal, it would be a no-brainer. But it does cost money. Would it be better to use this money to provide incentives for other forms of energy conservation?

In coming posts on Conserve NC we will look at some of the details of the transit options and how they will benefit the environment.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sierra Club Slient Auction and Wine Tasting

I look forward to seeing everyone Sat October 17 from 5:30pm-9pm at Cafe Helios, located at 413 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, for The Capital Group Sierra Club's Silent Auction and Wine Tasting! Twenty dollars at the door gets you fun, food, wine, prizes, and the chance to bid on great local products and services.

All proceeds will benefit the Capital Group's Inner City Outings program. RSVP today at www.nc.sierraclub.org/capital/auction/rsvp.asp to support our local inner city children and enable them to experience nature and the Great Outdoors.

Please bring cash or checks only, as we are unable to accept credit cards.

The Sierra Club still needs help the day of the auction! If you're interested in volunteering to help the day of the event, please contact Sharon Hazouri at vicechair-cg@sierraclub-nc.org.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paper or Plastic

The very familiar grocery store checkout question is “paper or plastic?” The correct answer, as we all should know, is “neither – got my own bag”. That is, we should bring our reusable bags. However, we will still sometimes go to the store and not have a bag. So the question is still “paper or plastic?”

The answer is not so obvious and may be surprising. Let’s consider the various environmental problems of bags and how plastic and paper bags compare. I have taken information from an Environmental Literacy Council article (www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/1268.html).

Energy
According to the article, plastic bags take less energy than paper bags to manufacture. Much of the energy of paper manufacturing is in the pulping stage, in which fiber from trees is cooked in a mixture of chemicals to turn it into paper stock.

Transportation
Plastic and paper have to be transported from the plastic plant or paper mill to the bag manufacturing plant. The bags then have to be transported to the stores. Paper is heaver and takes more room than the equivalent amount of plastic. According to Environmental Literacy, it takes seven times as many trucks to transport paper compared to plastic bags.

Disposal
One assumed advantage of paper bags is that they will degrade when exposed to moisture and air. However, in a properly designed and operated landfill nothing degrades. And even if paper bags did degrade, they would not simply go away. When a pound of paper degrades, there is still a pound of degraded paper taking up room in the landfill.

Compared to paper, plastic bags take up less space in a landfill than paper.

Plastic does have two problems, however. First, if plastic bags get into the sounds or ocean, fish and other aquatic animals may choke on them. Second, plastic bags are light weight and can blow in the wind, often landing in trees where they will remain for days. Paper bags, being heaver, will usually just lie on the side of the road.

Plastic bags should not be used on the beach or around sounds, Even if you intend to take the bag home with your trash, a gust of wind may still take it away. Also, if you have a habit of tossing your used grocery bags out of the car window, please use paper. But if you use your grocery bags as garbage can liners or other purposes, plastic is best.

The best way to carry groceries is reusable bags. Most grocery stores sell them, and they are easier to carry than either paper or plastic. But if you find yourself at the store without your reusable bags, it is best to get plastic bags and to be sure to reuse the bags for garbage cans or other uses. And do not use plastic near the beach.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

General Assembly "Long Session" Over

The General Assembly has adjourned and gone home. They will not be back in session until May 12, 2010 when the "short session" begins. Our legislature meets every odd numbered year for the "long session" that starts at the end of January and usually lasts until mid-summer of that year. Every even year they meet for the "short session" that lasts from mid May until late summer.

There have been environmental victories and losses. In addition to the good and bad bills that were passed, many bills, good and bad, were not acted on.

A few of the highlights of this year's session are:

Falls Lake Protection
SB 1020 will instruct the Environmental Management Commission to give credit to government and owners for certain protective measures taken before the rules are adopted. It will impose, by law, certain protections for the lake before the EMC adopts the permanent rules. It will also extend the deadline for the Department of Environmental Resources to write the permanent rules from July 1, 2009 until January 15, 2011. It has been approved by both Houses and will be presented to the governor for her approval.

Energy Conservation Incentives
HB 512 will provide tax incentives for the use of geothermal heat pumps and extends the sunset of other energy conservation incentives by five years until January 1, 2016. It has been approved by both Houses and will be presented to the governor for her approval.

HB 1389 will allow authorize cities and counties to establish loan programs to finance the installation of renewable energy sources or efficiency improvements that are affixed to buildings. This bill is often known as the "Cities First" bill. It has been approved by both Houses and will be presented to the governor for her approval.

Transit
HB 148 will allow Triangle and Triad counties to raise sales tax by 1/2 cent and allow other counties to increase sales tax by 1/4 cent to provide for rail and bus transit. The bill has been passed by both the House and Senate and presented to the Governor for her approval.

The result of other actions with environmental consequences will be covered later.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wind Power

One issue that divides the environment community is wind power. We need more renewable energy to replace the use of coal. On that almost everyone agrees. One source of renewable energy is wind power. However, there are serious environment consequences to the use of wind turbines.

The most well known and discussed problem is bird strikes, when the blade of a turbine strikes a bird. While that remains a problem, particularly in areas where bird migration paths will cross a line of wind turbines, it is much less of a problem than before because modern wind turbines are designed to use slower turning blades, and the structures do not have parts that would allow birds to perch.

A less well known and studied problem is the effect on bird habitat. One of the most attractive locations for wind turbines is mountain ridges in the western mountains of NC. However, many of these same ridges are used by raptors and other birds which make use of the updrafts to soar along the ridge looking for food. Much more needs to be learned about the effect of the wind turbines on these birds. Will they coexist with the turbines or will they seek other areas for their soaring and hunting.

Another area that has the sufficient wind is the coastal sound area of eastern NC. However, it is also an important area for birds. There are birds that fish in some areas of the sounds and roost on shore nearby. If a line of wind turbines is between the fishing area and the roosting area, the birds may move to a different, less desirable, area. Again, this needs more study before we allow wind turbines in our sound areas.

We do need more renewable energy. However, it is estimated that, fully developed, wind turbines in the mountain areas will produce only 800 MW of power when the wind is blowing. That much power will require at least 400 wind turbines. And the wind doesn’t always blow, even in the mountains. By comparison, some of the newer coal fired power plants produce over 2,000 MW, even when the wind doesn’t blow.

We certainly support the increased use of non-polluting renewable energy. Wind will supply some of our renewable energy. However, before we rush to site wind turbines on mountain ridges, coastal sounds, or other sensitive areas, we need more study of the effects on wildlife.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Senate trying to block hog waste regulations

The NC Senate today (Wed., 7/29) amended and then passed a bill (HB 1335) to place a moratorium on rule making by the Environmental Management Commission.

The amendment, adopted by a large vote, limited the effect of the bill to any “permanent rule regarding any requirement to test water quality by animal feeding operations”. This will prevent the bill from stopping most rule making activities (such as those regarding Falls Lake), but it will stop a proposed EMC rule regarding hog farms in Eastern North Carolina.

Some of the senators who opposed the limiting amendment expressed a belief that the EMC should be stopped from adopting any rules because EMC rules are anti-business.

The bill would prevent any rule from being adopted before July 1, 2011. Under existing state law rules adopted after that date must then go to the Rules Review Commission. Following RRC approval the rule will not go into effect until the end of the next session of the General Assembly, so the legislators may review and block the rules. This bill would stop affected rules from going into effect before the summer of 2012.

Thankfully, most rulemaking is not affected. But for the sake of the many people who have to put up with the smell of hog farms, let’s hope that this very bad bill is killed by the House.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

NC Senators trying to stop environmental regulations

There are a number of members of the NC Senate who don’t like environmental regulation, and will try to stop all regulations.

First, there was Sen. David Hoyle’s bill, SB 866. That bill would prevent any agency from adopting rules that “results in additional costs of persons subject to the rule…” except for certain exceptions, such as those required by state or federal law or court orders. Since all regulations have some costs, even minor amounts of time for businesses to notify employees, this bill would have the effect of eliminating all regulation not required by law or court order. That bill passed the Senate by a vote of 38 to 10. Fortunately, the bill appears to be stalled in the House.

Now, because of opposition to a proposed rule requiring more monitoring of hog farms’ waste operations, some senators want to require a moratorium on regulations from the Environmental Management Commission. Under the rules it is not possible to introduce a new bill this late in the session. First, SB 106, a bill considered to be dead, was amended to turn it into the EMC moratorium bill. Later, HB 1335 was amended to be used for the EMC moratorium.

This bill would apply only to regulations adopted by the Environmental Management Commission and it would prevent the EMC from adopting any permanent rule until July 1, 2011. Rules adopted by the EMC and other agencies must be reviewed and approved by the Rules Review Commission and then delayed until the General Assembly has a chance to disapprove or modify the rule. Therefore, if the bill is approved EMC rules will be blocked until the summer of 2012.

The current language of the bill will apply to all EMC rules. It is expected that the bill will be modified to narrow its scope to apply only to rules concerning hog farms. However, it will still be a very bad bill.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Large Wind Turbines in NC mountains

The NC Senate Finance committee, a few hours ago, approved an amendment to a bill that would prevent the construction of large wind turbines in certain mountain counties. In addition, the bill would impose strict siting requirements on wind turbines in the coastal area. This is a victory for those who love to watch the birds soar along the ridge lines in the mountains, as well as those who love the views in the mountains.

In the coastal areas wind turbines have the capability of greatly disturbing the habitat of birds that fish in our sounds. While direct birds strikes is the most well known and discussed problem of wind turbines, (and, of course, very bad for the bird that was struck) another, less well known effect is on the bird habitat. Often birds in the hills and mountains soar on the updrafts. In coastal areas birds often feed in one area of the sounds and sleep in trees on land. They commute each morning and evening from one area to the other. Lines of wind turbines interrupt these commuting patterns and force the birds to move to other areas. In the mountains they prevent the birds from using the ridge lines for hunting small game.

I certainly hope that the full Senate and the House will approve the bill. Yes, we do need to find alternative forms of energy, but not at the expense of the birds and other wildlife.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Transit Bill in Limbo

The Transit bill, HB148, is still lingering in the Senate Finance Committee. As pointed out in a previous post, the bill should have cleared by committee by now and come before the full Senate.

It is understood that the holdup is a dispute about the 1/4 percent sales tax authority that would apply to 94 counties (all except three counties in the Triangle, two in the Triad, and Mecklenburg, which already has a sales tax supported transit system).

It is unlikely that many, if any, of these counties would even put the sales tax on the ballot. This is particularly true if the state sales tax has to be raised to balance the budget. The environmental community may have to decide if the 1/4 cent tax for the other counties is worth jeopardizing the transit plans for the Triangle and the Triad.

Another factor is the House. If the Senate removes the authority for the 94 counties the House will have to concur with that change. Some believe that this authority was instrumental in getting the original House approval.

The session is nearing an end. Let's hope some agreement can be reached soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transit bill in Senate Finance Tuesday

HB 148, the bill that will allow certain counties, including those in the Triangle and the Triad regions, to raise sales tax to provide for rail and enhanced bus transportation, will be considered by the Senate Finance committee on Tuesday, 6/30, at 1pm in room 544.

We can expect action on the floor of the Senate later in the week.

The real challenge, after the bill basses the General Assembly and is approved by the governor, will be to get a referendum passed in the counties to implement the new power. More than that, if we are to reduce fossil fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gasses, and reduce traffic congestion, will be to get people to use the transit systems.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beach Bag Ban Bill now law

The bill to outlaw most plastic and non-recycled paper bags from three outer banks counties passed both houses of the General Assembly, was approved by the governor, and is now law (SL2009-163).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jordan Lake Rules Pass General Assembly

A bill, HB 239, to enact rules for the Jordan Lake reservoir, was approved by the General Assembly Monday night and will go to the governor for her expected approval.

The Environmental Management Commission, with approval by the Rules Review Commission, adopted rules to protect Jordan Lake from nutrient pollution that cause the growth of algae that can produce toxins. Bills were introduced in the General Assembly to disapprove the rules. One bill, HB 239, was turned into a bill that approved most of the new rules relating to new development near the lake and tributaries to the lake. The bill replaced regulations concerning existing development with compromise language.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fuel economy of state cars

The Senate, on Tuesday, 6/16/09, unanimously passed HB1079, Energy-efficient state motor vehicle fleet. This bill will require the Department of Administration to give preference to new passenger vehicles that have a fuel economy that is in the top 15 percent of that class of vehicles. Police and other emergency vehicles are exempt.

The bill had already been passed by the House. Because of a technical amendment to the bill in the Senate, the bill will be sent to the House for concurrence before being sent to the Governor for her approval.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the General Assembly

Some more recent action in the General Assembly:

SB 1018, which will ban plastic and non-recycled paper bags in three Outer Banks counties, was approved by the House Environment Committee on Tuesday, June 9. The bill, which has been passed by the Senate, is now in the House Commerce Committee.

HB 1079, to improve the energy efficiency of the state owned motor vehicle fleet, was reported favorably by the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, June 11, and now goes to the full Senate for votes.

SB 586, File Lis Pendens for Certain Erosion Actions, will requre the filing of notice of pending litigation relating to erosion controls. This will allow purchasers of property to know about litigation involving the property and aid enforcement of erosion regulations. The bill was given a favorable report by the House Environment Committee on Tuesday, June 9, and now is in the House Judiciary I committee.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A bad bill delayed

HB 1583, DOT Vegetation Removal Changes, was expected to be considered by the House Transportation committee on Wednesday, June 3. However, due to lack of time the bill was postponed until a future meeting of the committee. The NC Chapter of the Sierra Club is fighting this bill. It would expand the amount of vegetation (trees and shrubs) that can be removed from highway right-of-ways to make billboards and business more visible to cars. This is a bad bill and any delay is welcome.

Monday, June 1, 2009

News coverage of Falls Lake delay

The Raleigh NC News and Observer has published a couple of stories and an editorial about the delay in the Falls Lake rules:

Rules on Falls Lake stagnate May 25, 2009

Officials turn attention to Falls Lake cleanup May 27, 2009 (Durham edition)

Faster on Falls June 1, 2009 (editorial)

Falls Lake Rules Delay

The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) was required to write nutrient management rules for Falls Lake by an act (section 3 of Session Law 2005-190) of the General Assembly that was signed into law on July , 2005. That act required that the rules be implemented by July 1, 2008. In August, 2006 an act, SB 1523, SL 2006-259 of the General Assembly extended the deadline by one year. So under current law the rules must be developed by July 1, 2009. That is only one month from the date of this post.

The EMC adopts rules written by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

DENR has now asked the General Assembly for another extension. Early this past April, HB 1099, then in the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, was amended to extend the deadline by 2 years 5 months, until November 30, 2011. The extension was then changed to one year, with a requirement that the rules be developed by July 1, 2010. HB 1099 has passed the House with the one year extension; it is expected that attempts will be made in the Senate to increase the extension.

Falls Lake is already impaired and is getting worse. The rules should have been adopted long ago; any extension will allow the lake to become even more polluted. The rules will not go into effect on the date set by the General Assembly. That date is for the EMC to adopt rules. After the EMC adopts the rules they are then reviewed by the Rules Review Commission, a several month process. After the RRC reviews and approves the rules, they are reviewed and perhaps modified by the General Assembly. If the July 1, 2010 date is kept, the rules will be presented to the General Assembly in January of 2011 and will likely not get fully adopted until the summer of 2011

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Falls Lake Nutrient Strategy

Rules to reduce the development of algae blooms on the Falls Lake reservoir are now in the early stages of development. These rules, like the Jordan Lake rules that were developed earlier, will address the flow of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphate compounds, into the lake and the streams that flow into the lake.

Part of the development of the rules is the stakeholder process, a series of meetings with representatives from county and municipal governments, home builder organizations, environmental organizations, and others. I attend these meetings, representing WakeUP Wake County. This stakeholder process is facilitated by the Triangle J Council of Governments; the rules are being written by the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Math models of the Falls Lake watershed and of the lake will be used to estimate the effect of different amounts of nutrient loading on the lake.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Falls Lake Stakeholder Website

The Falls Lake Nutrient Management Strategy stakeholder process has its own web site. www.fallslakestakeholder.org provides information about the development of the pollution control rules for the Falls Lake, including all of the presentations made at the stakeholder meetings, and the dates of the future meetings.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Green Tie Awards

At the Conservation Trust for North Carolina Green Tie awards dinner on May 20, awards were given to the following people for their work helping the environment: Rep. Angela Bryant, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, Rep. Cullie Tarleton, Rep. Jennifer Weiss, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, Rep. Paul Leubke, and Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Read about the awards and those who received them here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The bill with a funny name

One bill that is considered to be environment related is titled “File Lis Pendens for Certain Erosion Actions”. (There are two bills, HB 789 and SB 586). But does anyone know what “lis pendens” means?

Yes, lis pendens is one of those Latin terms that lawyers like to use. Literally, it means “suit pending”. The term is used to means the filing of notice on property records that a law suit is pending against the property. If the property is being sold, the lis pendens notice will warn potential purchasers that a suit is pending against the property and that the suit may affect them.

This bill, if passed, will require the filling of notice of pending litigation that seeks injunctive relief regards sedimentation and erosion control for certain land-disturbing activities. The purpose is to ensure that potential new buyers are aware of a pending action and that they may be forced to fix certain violations.

The bill is supported by environmental organizations, and passed both the House and Senate, with only one opposing vote in the House and two opposing votes in the Senate. Since they were different, but identical bills, it will be only a formality for either the House or the Senate to pass the bill that came from the other chamber and send it to the Governor for signature.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Crossover Day

Under the General Assembly rules any bill that does not make appropriations or change the tax law must pass either the House or Senate by a deadline, known as Crossover day, in order to be considered by the other side. Bills that fail to pass the chamber in which they were introduced by crossover are dead. This year that date was Thursday, May 14.

The rush to get bills to the other side results in long, busy committee meetings early in the week and then long House and Senate sessions on the Wednesday and Thursday of crossover.

Twenty eight environment related bills made crossover. These bills have already been considered by one or two committees and been the subject of rewrites and compromises. They are now being considered by the other chamber (House bills are in the Senate, Senate bills are in the House). A list of those 28 bills can be found here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jordan Lake rules pass House

The Jordan Lake rules bill, HB 239, passed 2nd and 3rd readings in the House and now goes to the Senate, where it will be considered by the Ag/Envir/Nat Res. Committee.

The goal of the environmental community will be to prevent the retrofit rules from being watered down (pun intended) by the Senate. If the bill is killed, (very unlikely) the original, stronger, rules go into effect.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A bad bill - blocks rules that increase cost

One truly bad bill (still in play because it passed the Senate today) is SB 866, "APA Rules: Increasing Costs Prohibition". This bill, introduced by Sen. David Hoyle, would prevent any agency from adopting any rule that increased costs for any person, unless the rule responds to "A serious and unforeseen threat to the public health, safety, or welfare" or is required by law or court decision.

This could result in the inability of state agencies from adopting any regulation not directly required by law. All regulations have some cost, even if it only the cost of printing a copy of the regulation or the time for an employee to send e-mail informing others of the regulation. There is no requirement of significant cost; any cost will trigger the regulation.

One exception is for regulations responding to "A serious and unforeseen threat...". However, threats to public health and safety are not "unforeseen". There is at least some foresight needed for a regulation to be written.

Apparently Sen. Hoyle just doesn't like regulations, and this is one way to stop them. Unfortunately it will stop many regulations needed for public health and safety.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jordan Lake rules agreement

It now appears that there is an agreement between environmental groups and others (particularly Durham) on the Jordan Lake rules.

The agreement will be unveiled this afternoon at the meeting of the NC House Judiciary I committee. The committee will meet at 3pm in room 1228.

The Environmental Management Commission released a set of rules to reduce the nutrient pollution in Jordan Lake. The rules were approved by the Rules Review Commission. After approval, the rules were on hold because of "disapproval" bills in the General Assembly. These bills, if they passed, would have prevented any of the rules from going into effect.

One bill, HB 239, was introduced by Reps. Allen and Gibson as a disapproval bill. However, the disapproval language was replaced with language that would approval all rules other than the "existing development" or "retrofit" rule. That language was the subject of negotiations between representatives of the environmental community and Durham and other upstream communities.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Terminal Groins

Terminal Groins, sometimes known as Jetties, are hardened devices on beaches that are often at the end, but sometimes in the middle, of a beach. They are used to hold sand and prevent erosion of beaches. However, while they can protect one section of a beach they often cause such harm as additional erosion on other nearby parts of a beach.

43 scientists who study beach erosion have signed a statement that terminal groins should not be allowed. Current NC law does not allow terminal groins because of the effect.

(edit, 5/8/09)Some good information and examples of terminal groins can be found here

However, Sen. Julia Boseman of Wilmington introduced a bill SB 832,to allow such structures. In spite of strong opposition from the scientific and environmental community, Sen. Mark Basnight and others supported it. In the Senate it was passed by a vote of 37 to 10, and now goes to the House.

The following Senators voted against the bill despite of pressure from the Senate leadership: Allran; Atwater; Berger, D.; Brock; Clodfelter; Graham; Hunt; Kinnaird; Stein; Vaughan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Transit Bill passes House

The transit bill, HB 148, officially known at the Congestion Relief/Intermodal Transport Fund bill, has passed the NC House on two readings and was sent to the Senate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Transit Bill passes House Finance Committee

The North Carolina House Finance Committee voted to approve the the Congestion Relief/Intermodal Transport Fund bill (HB 148) by a vote of 19-6. The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives for debate and a vote. This will probably occur on Tuesday, April 21.

This bill will allow certain counties to adopt a 1/2 cent sales tax to support mass transit.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wake County's Extreme Growth

The Raleigh-Cary metropolitan area (Wake, Johnston, and Franklin counties) grew by 4.3% from July 2007 to July 2008, and is the fasted growing metropolitan area in the country. The nation average was just under 1%, North Carolina grew by 2.0%, and the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area growth rate was 2.5%.

See News & Observer story and News & Observer population estimate tables.

This rapid growth creates several environmental issues such as increased traffic (with increased air pollution), increased use of water, and increased runoff into streams and lakes.

Unless the county and municipalities can regulate and reduce this growth rate, these environmental problems will just get worse. The growth will be self-regulating--when the traffic, environmental, water, and other problems get too bad, people will not want to live here and we will stop growing. However, perhaps we should reduce the growth rate to maintain our quality of life.

General Assembly News

In the NC General Assembly bills related to the environment are being introduced at a fast pace. There will be coverage of these bills in this section of the eNews. The links from the bill numbers connect to a bill information page on the General Assembly website. To read the actual text of the bill, look for the box on the left hand side of the page. For all bills there will be the word "filed." Under that is usually the word "Edition 1." Clicking on these will call up the actual text of the bill in PDF format. If the bill has been amended since it was filed, later editions will be shown. Click on the highest edition number to read the latest text of the bill.

Low-Emission Vehicle Program - Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird has introduced a bill, SB 688, which would direct the Environmental Management Commission to adopt the California emission control standards and would require state agencies to purchase vehicles that meet those standards.

Water Allocation - Bills have been introduced to establish water allocations rules in North Carolina. Some of the bills are:

SB 907, Water Allocation Policy Act of 2009, introduced by Sen. Daniel Clodfelter, is the primary water allocation bill.

SB 833, Delineate River Basins, (Clodfelter) (apparently identical to HB 802 by Reps. Lucy Allen and Pryor Gibson, makes the list of river basins for water allocation purposes the same as the 17 river basins used for water quality rules.

SB 661, Contiguous Premises/Allocate Costs for Water (Clodfelter), requires (with some exceptions) an apartment owner to charge individual tenants for their use of water to provide an incentive for conservation.

Other bills have been introduced relating to water; these will be covered in more detail next week.

Other Legislative Matters - Not all of the bills that have been introduced are good for the environment. Two bills are bad ideas:

HB 643, by Rep. Russell Tucker, authorizes storage of reclaimed (but not safe to drink) water in underground aquifers. This could endanger the quality of drinking water from wells.

SB 832, by Sen. Julia Boseman, will allow the Coastal Resources Commission to authorize construction of a terminal groin (a hardened structure) to protect beaches from erosion. However, these structures will endanger other beaches. For more information, click here.

Jordan Lake Rules - Rules were adopted by the Environmental Management Commission and approved by the Rules Review Commission to reduce the nutrient pollution of Jordan Lake. Bills (HB 3, SB 166 and HB 239) have been introduced in the General Assembly to disapprove the rules. If the bills are killed, the rules will go into effect. However, a compromise affecting the "retrofit" provision (the most controversial part of the rules) may be adopted. The latest information about the Jordan Lake Rules will be covered in this section when they occur. More information about the rules can be found at www.ncconservationnetwork.org/issues/water_issues/jordan_lake

The Cary Town Council and the Apex Town Council have both adopted resolutions in support of the rules. The Cary resolution can be read at: www.townofcary.org/agenda/jordanres.htm

Budget - The Governor's proposed budget has been released and is being analyzed by members of the General Assembly. The Senate will then modify the budget. The budget, as modified by the Senate, will then be considered by the House. Most likely the Senate and House will not agree, so the budget will be subject to negotiations between the House and Senate.

As most people probably expected, there is some grim news. One such item is the elimination of the Office of Environmental Education from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. The Governor does propose to continue funding the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF), but at a reduction from $100 million/year to $75 million/year. The grant distributions from funds already appropriated have been frozen due to cash flow problems.

The Natural and Economic Resources section (book 5) of the budget can be found here. More information will be reported as the budget progresses through the Senate and House. Thanks to Dan Besse, editor of the NC Conservation Network's Conservation Insider Bulletin for insight on the budget.

Transit - The transit bill (HB 148) will allow counties, with voter approval, to charge an additional sales tax to pay for mass transit, including rail and buses. This bill has passed the House Transportation committee and will be heard by the House Finance committee (because of the sales tax change). No date has been set for the meeting. Support of this bill is a major effort of the Capital Group.

Cement Plant Near Wilmington State Senator Julia Boseman has introduced legislation (SB 699) to delay or stop a major cement maker, Titan, from to building a cement plant on the Northeast Cape Fear River just outside of Wilmington. The bill will delay all permits for cement plants in NC until September 1, 2010, and require the Environmental Review Commission to study the environmental impacts of cement plants. There was discussion about the bill (not a vote) at a meeting of the Senate environment committee on Tuesday, March 24.

The plant would destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands as well as cause air pollution. For the story in the Wilmington Star News, click here. For more information, see the Stop Titan website, stoptitan.org.

Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP)
Sen. Julia Boseman introduced SB 523 to fund the Community Conservation Assistance Program, a voluntary, incentive-based program that helps local governments and private landowners install storm water control measures. CCAP, administered by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, provides educational, technical, and financial assistance to landowners through its network of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

More information about these and other issues will be reported here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sierra and Other Groups Sue State Over PCS Phosphate Mining Permit

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, and North Carolina Sierra Club filed suit in the state administrative court against the NC Department of Water Quality challenging the issuance of a permit for a mine proposed by PCS Phosphate. See press release by SELC and story in News & Observer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cement Plant Near Wilmington

A major cement maker, Titan, plans to build a cement plant on the Northeast Cape Fear River just outside of Wilmington. This plant would destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands as well as cause air pollution. For the story in the News & Observer, click here and in the Wilmington Star News, click here. For more information, see the Stop Titan website, stoptitan.org

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Campo Public Hearing

Campo Public Hearing, Thursday, 3/5, 6:30 p.m.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO; www.campo-nc.us) will hold public hearings on proposed plans for the first 10 years of a transit plan for Wake County at City Hall, 222 W. Hargett St. This will be a joint meeting with the Capital Area Friends of Transit (CAFT). CAFT will provide an update on our activities as well as a report on the transit legislation from Wake legislators. As members of the CAFT coalition, the Capital Group strongly encourages you to attend to learn more and to express your views on the Wake Transit Plan! The proposed 10-year Wake County Transit Action Plan includes:

• doubling of bus service throughout the county, including express service connecting outlying towns in Wake County

• a light rail transit line from Northwest Cary to NCSU, downtown Raleigh and to Spring Forest Rd. in Northeast Raleigh

For more on the 25-year long range plan and 10-year action plan, see the links below:
25-year plan: www.campo-nc.us/2035_LRTP.html

10-year plan: www.campo-nc.us/TAC_Agenda/2009/Agenda-TAC-2009-01-21-Att-10B-Wake-Transit-PPT.pdf

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

NC Policy Watch - Jordan Lake Rules

Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch published an article on the organization’s website Friday about "How Polluters and Ideologues are Attempting to Block the Clean-up of a Vital Water Resource." He discusses the criticism of the Jordan Lake Nutrient rules by the John Locke Foundation. His article can be found at www.ncpolicywatch.com/cms/2009/02/20/sabotaging-the-jordan-rules/.

Schofield referred to the site www.CleanJordanLake.org for information about the Jordan Lake rules. The site provides information about Jordan Lake, the dangers facing the lake, and the rules designed to protect the lake. These rules have been approved by the Environmental Management Commission and the Rules Review Commission. The General Assembly will decide this year whether to block the rules, allow the rules to go into effect, or compromise and adopt weaker rules.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

NC General Assembly Getting Organized

The NC General Assembly is now organized. Both the House and Senate have appointed committees that should soon be meeting and considering legislation of interest to us. Some of the issues are:

Jordan Lake Rules - Rules were adopted by the Environmental Management Commission and approved by the Rules Review Commission to reduce the nutrient pollution of Jordan Lake. Bills (HB 3 and SB 166) have been introduced in the General Assembly to disapprove the rules. If the bills are killed, the rules will go into effect. But there may be a compromise, with the General Assembly substituting weakened rules.

Water Allocation - No bill has been introduced yet, but there may be a bill to require permits for the withdrawal of large amounts of water from rivers, in order to share the water resources of a river throughout the river basin.

Transit - Bills (HB 148 and SB 151) have been introduced to allow counties, with voter approval, to charge an additional sales tax to pay for mass transit, including rail and busses. Support of this bill is a major effort of the Capital Group.

Auto emissions and efficiency - Bills may be introduced to adopt the California auto efficiency and emissions standards.

More information about these and other issues will be reported here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

NC General Assembly starts session

The North Carolina General Assembly started its "long" session last week. As of today, they have not announced the committee assignments, but bills are being introduced.

Of course, the big issue this session is the economy. How can they have a budget that is balanced in spite of the economic situation without cutting too deep and without raising taxes too much.

Several important environmental issues will come before the General Assembly.

Transit
The legislators will be asked to give the counties the authority to raise sales taxes (or perhaps some other tax) to fund mass transit (rail and bus).

Jordan Lake
Recently the Environmental Management Commission and the Rules Review Commission adopted rules to protect Jordan Lake from pollution (specifically, nutrients that lead to algae problems).

Water Allocation
There will likely be an attempt to amend laws about how water in our rivers is allocated to communities and industries along the river. In the past there was sufficient water in the rivers for everyone to use what they needed. However, with growth we are reaching limits. It appears that we need to change the law to require that large water users (some industrial users and communities) to obtain permits before they can withdraw large volumes of water.

These issues and others will be discussed here as they are addressed by the General Assembly.