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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Environmentalist groups oppose Rouzer’s water permit reform bill, which helps some of his campaign donors

(Courtesy Rep. David Rouzer Facebook)

NORTH CAROLINA — The Southern Environmental Law Center is among more than 40 environmentalist groups who sent a letter warning a permit reform bill, co-introduced by Congressman David Rouzer, would “put polluter profits ahead of public health.” 

READ MORE: ‘Nature’s solution to flooding’: Cooper signs sweeping conservation, wetlands protection executive order

On March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 7023 — the “Creating Confidence in Clean Water Permitting Act” — consisting of five bills packaged together originally introduced by Rouzer (R-NC) and other Republican lawmakers.

Rouzer, who has represented North Carolina’s 7th district since 2015, is the chair of the House transportation subcommittee on water resources and environment. He introduced the Nationwide Permitting Improvement Act to the subcommittee in January, which was later packaged with four other related bills focused on reforming federal permit regulation for industries involved in energy, transportation, and other commercial activities.

The final bill’s provisions include extending the period of permit renewal from five to 10 years and putting new restrictions on courts’ abilities to rescind permits for violations. It also limits the statute of limitations for dredge-and-fill permits, often used for excavation of wetlands and other surface waters.

Rouzer argues the legislation would clarify and streamline the nationwide permitting process. In a March 21 speech, he emphasized it would not undermine or modify the scope of the Clean Water Act.

“Time is money,” he said. “And ensuring these projects do not become stuck in bureaucratic quagmire is vital for supply-chain efficiency, energy independence, and water utility projects — all of which are incredibly important for my constituents in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional district, as well as those of every member of Congress.”

SELC disagreed and argued the bill would jeopardize the nation’s waters. The environmentalists claimed the new provisions would slow down the EPA’s process for updating water quality criteria, limit EPA’s ability to terminate permits if activities were found to cause severe environmental harm, and prevent effective judicial review of projects damaging wetlands and other waters.

“Specifically, the bill would shield dischargers from Clean Water Act liability, even if they are aware of certain pollutants in their waste streams but do not disclose it to pollution control officials, who do not have reason to expect such contaminants,” SELC spokesperson Kathleen Sullivan told Port City Daily.

PCD reached out to Rouzer’s office to ask for his view on the letter but did not receive a response by press.

Sullivan told PCD environmentalists are particularly concerned the bill would make it easier for industries to discharge PFAS and other contaminants in the nation’s water.

The SELC has represented Wilmington-based nonprofit Cape Fear River Watch in a number of PFAS-related issues, including a suit against Chemours for the company’s violations of the Clean Water Act and Toxic Substances Control Act.

UNCW biological oceanographer and limnologist Larry Cahoon — who is on Cape Fear River Watch’s board of directors — expressed similar concerns. He said the legalistic language in the bill indicated it was written by an industry lobbyist or attorney. 

“I’d like to know who actually wrote this bill,” Cahoon said. “It wasn’t David Rouzer.”

According to the website of the National Association of Home Builders, which has donated $29,000 to Rouzer’s campaign since his initial primary in 2015, per FEC records, NAHB “worked with lawmakers to add specific legislative language that would not affect how home builders use best management practices when managing stormwater runoff from construction sites.”

Cahoon particularly expressed concern about a provision expanding the use of “general permits” for industrial polluters, which he argued did not contain sufficient safeguards for environmental protection.

“The waters of the United States belong to the people of the United States,” Cahoon  said. “The government is supposed to be the steward of our waters. The government doesn’t own our waters, they are supposed to provide for the protection of that resource on behalf of the people, with some consideration given to those who have more specific uses. But those uses are privileges, not rights.”

Rouzer has introduced other legislation related to the Clean Water Act, specifically on its definition of “Waters of the United States.” In Feb. 2023, Rouzer and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) co-introduced a resolution to overturn the Biden administration’s updated Waters of the United States definition, which put isolated wetlands — wetlands without a contiguous connection to other water bodies — under federal jurisdiction. 

Rouzer argued the broad definition constituted federal overreach, was dangerously ambiguous and would hurt businesses.

Many of the industry trade groups who endorsed Rouzer’s permit bill also supported the 2023 bill to change the WOTUS definition, including the NAHB

According to a tally of PAC and individual contributors by campaign finance nonprofit OpenSecrets, other industry groups in support of the Creating Confidence in Clean Water Act are among Rouzer’s top career donors:

  • The National Association of Realtors: $48,150
  • The National Pork Producers Council: $63,318.
  • The National Cotton Council: $85,250
  • The National Farm Bureau Federation’s North Carolina affiliate: $56,700

Trade associations in support of the bill also include companies that have given significant contributions to Rouzer. For example, ExxonMobil is a member of the American Petroleum Institute. The company’s political action committees have donated a career total of $22,500 to the congressman’s campaign, according to FEC records.

Duke Energy Corp and Dominion Energy are members of the American Gas Association. Duke Energy PACs have donated a career total of $41,000 to Rouzer, while Dominion Energy PACs have given $16,000.

Multinational energy company Phillips 66 lobbied on Rouzer’s Nationwide Permitting Act, according to disclosures. FEC reports show one donation of $2,500 to Rouzer’s campaign in May 2023.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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