Clean drinking water is vital to every person and community in North Carolina and stopping threats to our water safety is a top priority for state government.
The discovery of the chemical GenX in the Cape Fear River has emphasized that the threat posed by emerging, unregulated compounds will require resources to protect water across the state.
When it comes to drinking water, there is no room for political posturing or hollow solutions. We must keep our eye on the ball to monitor our waterways and ensure that all North Carolinians can have full confidence in the water they drink.
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. 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.
That is why I am vetoing it.
In recent years, state regulators have suffered repeated budget cuts that have left resources stretched thin — nearly 70 positions have been cut from the water quality department of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) alone since 2013. These cuts are particularly glaring when comparing North Carolina to other states. North Carolina has nine permit writers for 220 water discharge facilities. Meanwhile, South Carolina has almost twice as many officials overseeing far fewer facilities, as does and Kentucky.
These cuts have forced North Carolina to do more with less, straining state officials’ workload. Still, following reports of GenX in the Cape Fear River, state officials moved swiftly.
DEQ successfully took action to stop Chemours from discharging GenX and two additional compounds that were going into the river. DHHS health experts worked with the EPA and DEQ to monitor GenX levels in the Cape Fear and ensure that families could continue to drink their water.
As part of the response on GenX DEQ and DHHS requested $2.6 million to put more experts on the ground — hiring engineers, monitors, permit writers and scientists. Unfortunately, HB 56 offers no support for these agencies. Instead this legislation diverts needed resources to the local utility and UNC-Wilmington and eliminates a local plastic bag ban supported by local governments and businesses that was passed to protect the environment in the Outer Banks.
The urgent need to protect our state’s drinking water is not an issue that will soon go away. There are no short cuts, and the presence of GenX in groundwater in Fayetteville makes clear that the solution cannot be limited to Wilmington.
This legislation doesn’t fix the problem, and that is why I’m vetoing it. I urge the legislature to take meaningful action to ensure the long-term safety of drinking water in North Carolina.