The General Assembly on Wednesday overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a wide-ranging environmental bill that could have an impact locally.
Returning to Raleigh for the third time since completing their primary annual work session in June, the Republican-controlled state House and Senate voted separately to approve the measure over Cooper’s objections.
House Bill 56, now a state law, gives $435,000 to help Wilmington-area utilities and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to help treat and remove the chemical GenX from the Cape Fear River. A Bladen County plant discharged the chemical for years into the river until recently.
The governor vetoed HB 56, saying the funding is insufficient and fails to address the underlying challenges of addressing “emerging contaminants” in drinking water sources.
The state House voted to override the veto 70-44, while the Senate was more lopsided at 30-9.
Cooper wanted $2.6 million his agencies requested to beef up water quality experts and permit-writers statewide. Cooper also opposed provisions within the measure affecting local landfills and ending a plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks.
Three weeks ago, Surry County Manager Chris Knopf brought up HB 56 to the Surry County Board of Commissioners. When Knopf mentioned the impact on landfills, the commissioners were surprised that they had not heard of all the side details of this bill before it reached the point of landing on the governor’s desk.
There are groups like the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners that keep rural towns and counties abreast of what is happening at the state capitol, but the Surry board didn’t know of HB 56’s potential impact until it had already been approved by the General Assembly.
The county board met again on Monday, two days before General Assembly would vote on the override. The commissioners voted in favor of a resolution “to acknowledge the negative impact that House Bill 56 will have on the Surry County Landfill.”
For example, one passage from HB 56 states that a local government can only require that all solid waste in its region go to its own landfill if one of a handful of conditions is met, such as needing to pay off debt owed for landfill operations or if the government body has a contract already in place with a private service.
Imagine if businesses could just decide to haul their garbage to another county offering a cheaper rate, Knopf said last month. This could harm the landfill’s operating budget.
The resolution states, “Legislation in House Bill 56 included language that significantly alters Surry County’s ability to incur debt and expand its solid-waste landfill.
“Surry County has a long-planned landfill expansion scheduled for Fiscal Year 2019 and has spent approximately $3.9 million since 2007 in preparing for this expansion, including the acquisition of 95 acres of land through eminent domain.”
The resolution also points out something the commissioners said last month about methane recovery at the landfill providing a boost to the county and how this could be impacted by the new law.
“While the Surry County Board of Commissioners applauds efforts by the North Carolina General Assembly to seek cost-effective private-sector solutions for government operations, we strongly oppose the solid-waste capacity language in House Bill 56 in its current form.”
In conclusion the resolution states, “The Surry County Board of Commissioners encourages the North Carolina General Assembly to first consult directly with counties who would be impacted before moving forward.”
The resolution was approved by county officials on Monday in order to be heard before the vote on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, according to online voting results, both local representatives in the General Assembly — Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-District 90) and Sen. Shirley Randleman (R-District 30) — voted in favor of the veto override.
With the bill now a law, the board likely will need a full explanation of all the nuances of the complex document so that board members can fully understand all the facets that could affect this county.