Politics & Government

Money aimed at water pollution is in limbo as Cooper vetoes environmental bill

Billy Locklear, from Robeson County, brings his tackle box to the shores of the Cape Fear River at the William O. Huske Lock and Dam off NC 87 in Bladen County on July 22, 2004.
Billy Locklear, from Robeson County, brings his tackle box to the shores of the Cape Fear River at the William O. Huske Lock and Dam off NC 87 in Bladen County on July 22, 2004. AP

Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday said he would veto a catch-all bill full of changes to environmental laws, including funding aimed at the Cape Fear River pollutant GenX.

With Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled legislature at odds over what to do about GenX, money meant to deal with the contamination is in limbo.

In a message posted to the online venue Medium, Cooper called the bill “cynical.” He said the funding is inadequate and isn’t targeted to the right places.

Republican senators criticized Cooper’s veto, with Senate leader Phil Berger urging swift action to override it.

A three-fifths majority is needed to overturn a veto. The House passed the bill with a 61-44 vote, and the Senate passed it 29-10. The General Assembly reconvenes Oct. 4.

Among the bill’s 19 changes and additions to environmental laws: lifting the ban on plastic bags at Outer Banks stores.

GenX pollution

Wilmington residents were told in June that their water is polluted with GenX, which a Fayetteville-area manufacturing plant had been discharging into the Cape Fear River for years. The state Department of Environmental Quality, under Cooper, is leading an investigation into the chemical.

But legislators have questioned how state agencies have addressed the Chemours Co.’s chemical discharges into the Cape Fear.

DEQ sued Chemours earlier this month.

In August, DEQ and the state Department of Health and Human Services asked legislators for about $2.6 million for public health and water monitoring efforts. Legislators have not acted on the request. Berger said in a statement Thursday that the Cooper administration request was an attempt to grow bureaucracy.

“Shame on Gov. Cooper for vetoing a local solution, developed by this region’s local representatives, to immediately improve water quality for their constituents, neighbors and own families – simply because it did not achieve his preferred objective of growing a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis. I encourage my Senate colleagues to swiftly override his veto,” Berger said.

Environmental advocates praised Cooper’s move.

“We applaud Governor Cooper for standing up for local communities and the environment, while declining to go along with the Legislature’s political gamesmanship surrounding an important drinking water quality issue,” N.C. Sierra Club state director Molly Diggins said in a statement.

Under the bill Cooper vetoed, the Cape Fear utility authority would get $185,000 to figure out how to treat water to remove GenX, and for ongoing monitoring. UNC Wilmington would receive $250,000 to measure GenX in river sediment.

Debating the bill, House Democrats said it did not direct enough money to the problem, allocated money to the wrong agencies and lifted other environmental protections.

“The legislation passed by the General Assembly, House Bill 56, provides no resources to the state agencies charged with protecting drinking water and preventing illegal chemicals from being discharged into our rivers,” Cooper wrote. “It gives the impression of action while allowing the long-term problem to fester. And it unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections for landfills, river basins, and our beaches.”

“This cynical legislation fails to address the concerns of families in the Cape Fear region and does nothing to protect drinking water statewide going forward.”

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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