by Matt Saldaña
Just in time for next Monday's appearance before the House Judiciary I Committee, the Bill Formerly Known as "Disapprove Jordan Lake Rules" (HB 239) has been freshly minted "Restore Water Quality in Jordan Reservoir." The original version of the bill would have done just the opposite, by rejecting the N.C. Environmental Management Commission's strategy to restore the polluted lake to federal Clean Water Act compliance. Earlier drafts of a compromise bill that the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources ironed out last week would have allowed the EMC's rules to go forward, but weakened critical pollution controls, and delayed their implementation by up to 17 years.
According to Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, a newer version of the compromise bill now contains improved environmental protections to go along with that fancy new name.
"It’s all about, 'Do you meet water quality standards or not?'" she said in an interview.
Specifically, the timelines for determining whether sub-watersheds are responsible for pollution controls, and implementing those controls, have been reduced by three years. An additional check-point for the Upper New Hope Creek Arm--which first placed Jordan Lake on the EPA's Impaired Waters list in 2002, due to excess nutrients--has also been bumped up by three years. And language that would have exempted that sub-watershed, which includes the City of Durham, from enacting critical pollution-reduction measures due to cost concerns has been eliminated, Ouzts said.
The Cities of Durham and Greensboro have been lobbying the Legislature to minimize the EMC's ability to regulate pollution that results from existing development, arguing that such controls would be financially burdensome for local governments. Ouzts said this latest revision reflects a compromise between that position, and environmentalists seeking protections for the lake.
"It's not quite as far off from the original [EMC] rules," she said.
The Judiciary I Committee meets Monday, May 11, at 3 p.m., in LB 1228 to discuss HB 239. If passed, the bill will then come up for a vote on the House floor--where another round of budget vs. environment is sure to take place.