by Matt Saldaña
Following approval by the House Judiciary I Committee, HB 239 (“Restore Water Quality in Jordan Reservoir”)--which modifies portions of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission's strategy to clean up Jordan Lake--is on its way to the House floor. But the bill's sponsors, who attended Monday's meeting, warned that further battles remain.
"I suspect there'll be changes to this," bill sponsor Rep. Pryor Gibson (D-Anson) told the committee.
Committee Chair Deborah Ross (D-Wake) confirmed that environmentalists were happy with the changes from last week's version of the bill, including shorter timelines to implement pollution controls, by asking, "Are there nods out there?"
There were, and the bill passed after no more than ten minutes of discussion.
"This was the best deal that could be struck under the circumstances," Durham Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees said in an interview after the vote. "The environmental community would have liked to see things a little stronger, and a little sooner, and the City of Durham would've liked to see things take a little longer, and have more protections against unreasonable costs."
The Cities of Durham and Greensboro have lobbied the Legislature to minimize the EMC’s ability to regulate pollution resulting from existing development, arguing that such controls would be financially burdensome for local governments. The bill, as proposed, would delay these controls--and limit EMC's ability to craft them--but would still require governments to meet nutrient-reduction standards.
"We feel like this bill has protections against the most costly components," Voorhees said.
In particular, he cited a clause that would bar EMC from requiring local governments to install stormwater devices, reduce impervious surfaces, or purchase conservation land, in order to achieve the required pollution controls. Instead, governments must develop their own plans to reduce pollution to the EPA standard, which may include these same strategies.
When asked if Durham would be pushing for a more lenient version of the bill once it reaches the House and Senate chambers--which co-sponsor Rep. Lucy Allen (D-Franklin) joined Gibson in promising that somebody would do--Voorhees said, "I don't think you'll see us advocating for much change. I think we'll be advocating that it not change from what it is."
Check back for updates on HB 239.