NC pollution control program could see changes

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina state environmental program designed to protect the health of residents from exposure to dangerous chemicals would be scaled back because of overlapping federal rules in proposed legislation that was developed in part by business interests.

A key environment committee at the General Assembly was scheduled Thursday to receive a draft proposal crafted with the blessing of Republicans now in control of the Legislature. They want to curb what they call redundancies in state and federal air toxics programs that lead to additional paperwork and business costs but don’t protect human health, air and water commensurately.

Under the proposal, the rules of the state Air Toxics Program wouldn’t apply to business operations such as power plants, paper mills and chemical manufacturers that already are required by federal regulators to install equipment to reduce emissions by the maximum achievable amounts.

The state program would still monitor nearly 100 toxic air pollutants emitting from hundreds of facilities statewide by measuring concentrations at property lines and their effects on human health, according to Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, co-chairman of the Environmental Review Commission.

The bill also would place permanently into state law a rule that has given leaders at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources the ability to require permits for emissions considered an unacceptable risk to human health.

Gillespie labeled the bill consensus legislation worked out between business lobbying organizations such as the North Carolina Chamber and Manufacturers and Chemical Industry Council of North Carolina and top department regulators. He said the measure doesn’t go as far as some people seeking regulatory overhauls would like — probably including other Republican lawmakers. Some GOP legislators backed last year doing away with the state program.

“This is pretty middle-of-the-road,” Gillespie said an interview. “I might have some problems with my own (party) on this.”

Environmental groups weren’t at the table to draw up the changes, Gillespie said, but they were told before Thursday’s meeting about the proposal. Any changes would still have to clear the full House and Senate later this spring before going to

Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s desk. Gillespie said he expected the commission to debate the legisltion more at its March meeting.

Perdue hasn’t seen the legislation and won’t comment on it yet, Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson said.

“The governor supports regulatory reform that doesn’t compromise public health,” Johnson said Wednesday.

State regulators have said the state program is different from the federal program, which seeks to reduce emissions involving 187 pollutants, 76 of which also are monitored by the state.

Margaret Hartzell, policy advocate for Environment North Carolina, said her group remains concerned about details that it has yet to see. She said the proposed rules, if approved, “are not helpful to the environment and public health in North Carolina.”

She said it’s unwise to decrease authority of the state Air Toxics Program because it focuses on protecting the public in the state while the federal program bases pollution limits on nationwide averages.

North Carolina Chamber President and Chief Executive Office Lew Ebert said parts of the state program put up barriers to growth for businesses.

“By finding a common ground between the two programs, we can provide greater efficiency, consistency and predictability to the business community in North Carolina, which in turn allows them to create jobs and invest in our state,” Ebert said in a prepared statement.

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This story was written by GARY D. ROBERTSON of The Associated Press. (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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