In 1971, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed SEPA
—the State Environmental Policy Act—which regulates environmental projects undertaken by the state (and paid for by taxpayers) that could have potentially damaging effects on natural resources and public health and safety.
If a project costs taxpayers $1 million or more, and could have a direct environmental impact, SEPA kicks in to review it.
Now, Republicans in the House (always Republicans in the House) want to render SEPA meaningless, by not enforcing its environmental impact review on projects that cost less than $20 million to taxpayers. Put another way, they want license to undertake virtually any permitted project that could harm the environment and threaten public safety, without comprehensive regulation.
Additionally, they want to redefine “direct environmental impact,” so that speculation, information based on previous projects or based on projects that happened outside North Carolina, would not be accounted for in deciding whether or not to go ahead with a project.
The bill’s sponsors, Rep. John Torbett, Rep. Mike Hager and Rep. Chris Millis say $1 million just “doesn’t go that far” nowadays, so it's OK if a bunch of little projects that cost less than $20 million wreak utter havoc.
These House Republicans— particularly one Rep. Mike Hager, former Duke Energy employee and brazen ALEC hack
—are fond of introducing this kind of legislation under the guise
of “reform,” or “protecting taxpayers.”
In the House Environment Committee today, Hager went through all the reasons why North Carolina residents don’t need SEPA anymore, arguing that the National Environmental Protection Act would cover the bases for state projects (in fact, NEPA applies to a different set of standards, as Rep. Pricey Harrison pointed out).
“We’re talking about taxpayer dollars and we’re talking about environmental protection,” Hager said. “We are no longer in 1971. We actually have DENR. We actually have air quality permitting requirements. We have water quality permitting requirements. Regardless of whether you’re using private or public funds, the environmental protection is there.”
Yes, we “actually have DENR
” to protect our air and water now.
Even Tom Reeder
, DENR’s Assistant Secretary for the environment, doesn’t think House Bill 795 will protect our air and water.
“There could possibly be some negative consequences to the state water infrastructure program, our waste water and drinking water revolving loan fund program,” Reeder told the committee.
Though public comment was not allowed this morning, the director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, Molly Diggens, was given a minute to speak.
“SEPA is one of those fundamental laws that inform our entire approach to environmental policy,” Diggens said. “The purpose of SEPA is to guarantee that the decisions to spend taxpayer funds on public projects are made only after three things have happened: receiving public input, considering all the potential protection impacts and evaluating alternatives.”
“Individual air and water quality permit reviews are a much more narrow and come only after a commitment has been made to pursue specific projects.”
The bill passed the committee on a voice vote.