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.