NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A statement today from the “majority of board” of county commissioners supported a controversial bill that included funding to deal with GenX. But not all the county commissioners agreed.
HB56 amendment and veto by Cooper
House Bill 56, a complicated bill dealing with a variety of environmental regulations, was recently amended after a push by State Senator Michael Lee. The amendment would provide funding to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and the University of North Carolina Wilmington to study and filter GenX.
Governor Cooper vetoed the bill on Thursday, calling it “cynical” and decrying “unnecessary” environmental rollbacks. Republicans are now looking for the votes to override that veto. The Board of Commissioners’ statement today was intended to demonstrate New Hanover County’s support for that override effort.
Divisions over HB56
However, Commission Jonathan Barfield was not on board, “I disagreed as did Rob Zapple. I think it sends the wrong message to Raleigh.”
Barfield pointed out that the bill did not provide funding for other counties affected by the GenX issue, including Pender and Brunswick. Barfield also suggested that the issue goes beyond the scope of the bill.
“This issue is greater than New Hanover County. We need a solution to GenX, period. So we need all of the resources, at the state level, to deal with it in a broader context,” Barfield said.
Barfield also said the county’s relationship with the state relied on both the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services; HB56 could be seen as a defacto rerouting of funding from those agencies to CFPUA and UNCW.
Other opponents of the bill, including Representative Deb Butler, have pointed out the bill does not address the wider range of contaminants in the Cape Fear – including recently identified Nafion byproducts. These chemicals are related to GenX, but are not covered by the bill’s limited amendment.
Barfield, like Butler, also pointed to the bill’s de-regulation of landfills and the repeal of a nearly-decade-old ban on plastic bags in the Outer Banks as negative “baggage.”
Republicans, including Lee, argue the bill is the best way to provide immediate funding. Commissioner Woody White, along with Patricia Kusek and Skip Watkins, joined Lee in supporting the effort to override Cooper’s veto.
“Although we have no formal jurisdiction over the regulatory issues, we do have the opportunity to provide a voice to our community in encouraging our leaders in Raleigh to press for progress,” White said. “Whether or not the override fails, (New Hanover) County will continue its leadership in getting both short term and long term solutions to the Genx issue.”
The Board of Commissioners official statement
The Board of Commissioners statement reads in full:
“HB 56 included several of New Hanover County’s top legislative priorities including funding for GenX research and testing, and the establishment of a program to protect the state’s shoreline from coastal storms.
“With the veto of the bill, the county will be deprived of a rapid and immediate response to address the drinking water situation in the Cape Fear region. While the long-term issue of funding for state agencies to handle enforcement must be addressed, the county encourages the N.C. General Assembly to override the veto so that funds can be distributed locally to start work immediately on the research and testing that is needed to keep our residents safe.
“Overriding HB 56 also ensures that New Hanover County and every other ocean-front county has a permanent support system for maintaining healthy beaches and a vibrant economy.”
State Senate Leader Phil Berger has called for fellow Republicans to override the veto “swiftly.”
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