The Environmental Review Commission of the North Carolina General Assembly now has a decision to make. They met in Wilmington this week, to hammer out plans for the GenX river contamination and its related investigations. The 20-member commission spent almost five hours questioning local officials, and listening to public comment.
“For members, and especially the public here, this is an official meeting of the Environmental Review Commission, which is appointed every two years, to look into matters involving the environment across North Carolina …..”
Republican Senator Trudy Wade of Guilford County is the commission chair, and opened the meeting at the New Hanover County Government Center.
The conference room included an overflow crowd of residents, and was one part emotional, and one part partisan.
Republican Senator Michael Lee told the story of when he first heard about GenX, and how his thoughts focused on his physically disabled son.
“Was that grounded in logic, or rational thought or steeped in scientific research? It wasn’t. It was emotional, it was an emotional response. And you’re going to see that from a lot of people who are here. It’s very personal, and very emotional to folks.”
At issue in the meeting was how to best proceed in the investigation, and where the money should go.
Earlier this month Gov. Roy Cooper requested $2.58 million in funding to restore 16 positions to the Department of Environmental Quality, and beef up the Department of Health and Human Services, and allow for the testing of GenX in perpetuity.
However the republican majority of the commission, is more interested in a proposal by Senator Lee, which has the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and UNCW coordinating a response to GenX – not the DEQ and DHHS.
Representative Deb Butler is not in favor of Lee’s plan.
“So why are we here today. I submit to you in part that it is because our governor, Roy Cooper, has made a reasonable and thoughtful request of the General Assembly for money, to pay for more scientists, toxicologists and chemist at the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Health and Human Services.”
“Those are our watchdogs for keeping our water clean.”
She says it’s a big conflict of interest.
“So these proposals, when you think about them, particularly the one about putting CFPUA in charge of their own testing, border on the ridiculous.”
“In the countryside we call it the fox guarding the henhouse, and that’s what would be happening if you put CFPUA in charge of water quality.”
DEQ Secretary Michael Regan testified that budget cuts have hampered his efforts.
“This agency has faced cuts for a while now. One of the things that we’re facing is a 40% backlog in our permitting, approximately a two-year wait period. One of the things I have noticed since investigating this is that we don’t have adequate staff to focus on these permits.”
Dozens of citizens spoke during public comment, with different perspective.
“I think you’re misdirecting resources to try and find out what went wrong, when you ought to be asking for help from the CDC Centers for Disease Control to find out how we get this out of our water and out of our children ….”
“We’re here to talk about the safety of drinking water for 300,000 people, every single man, woman and child, regardless of political affiliation or beliefs, drinks water every single day.”
“The lack of notice by Chemours and the CFPUA is as concerning as the actual discharge that was taking place...”
“I ask you to provide DEQ and local governments the support they need to monitor and protect water quality. GenX is a wake-up call. It’s one that should remind us how important it is to protect our water.”
“I would like to remind you that these toxic chemicals are not just in Wilmington’s water. They are in my water in Brunswick County too. And anyone who gets raw water from the Lower Cape Fear Sewer and Water Authority is forced to drink this cocktail of PFOS being dumped by Chemours.”
“I want to drink some water, that’s not going to kill me. I am a chronic kidney patient, I came here to extend my life, not to end my life. Thank you very much….”
Chemours declined an invitation to speak to the commission.
Cooper’s request for funding did not receive a vote at Wednesday’s hearing.
Instead, after public comment, Commission Chair Wade and Senator Lee discussed his request for CFPUA funding, and the committee approved a motion to move forward to study the request.
Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a democrat, requested a motion to consider the funding request for DEQ and DHHS, but that was denied.
The commission meets again in September, back at its usual Raleigh location.