Friday, February 3, 2023

Wilmington City Council likely to oppose DEQ consent order with Chemours this week

The $13 million consent order has been championed as "great first step" by local environmental groups, but local officials have grown increasingly critical of it.

The City of Wilmington has prepared a draft resolution opposing the consent order between DEQ and Chemours. (Port City Daily photo / File)
The City of Wilmington has prepared a draft resolution opposing the consent order between DEQ and Chemours, the result of a state lawsuit against the chemical company for the dumping of GenX into the Cape Fear River. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — Wilmington City Council will most likely join CFPUA and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in opposing the Department of Environmental Quality’s consent order with The Chemours Company this week.

While the item is not on council’s agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 8 meeting, the city announced on Friday that councilmembers would discuss the issue following its Monday morning agenda review meeting.

According to city emails, the city has been in communication with county leaders, as well as CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner, to review a resolution opposing the consent order between Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Chemours; the resolution will likely be added to Tuesday’s agenda for a formal vote.

Local Opposition to the Consent Order

The consent order, announced the evening before Thanksgiving, required Chemours to pay a $12 million dollar fine (the largest environmental fine in North Carolina history), plus $1 million in fees to cover investigative costs for DEQ. The order, which was negotiated with DEQ and the Cape Fear River Watch, gave the River Watch oversight on new testing and filtering requirements for Chemours. It also required additional measures to provide clean water to the area around Chemours’ Fayetteville facility.

The order was praised as a positive “first step” by local environmental groups, including Cape Fear River Watch; however, local leaders have grown increasingly critical of it. (You can read Cape Fear River Watch’s defense of the consent order here.)

Shortly after the consent order was announced, CFPUA issued a statement outlining concerns over the lack of attention to downstream water quality. CFPUA followed that statement with formal opposition to the order, and – more recently – legal action to force the state to allow the utility a role in further negotiations with Chemours.

Over the same time period, New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White called on the board to oppose the consent order, which it did in an unanimous vote.

(Editor’s note: For clarification, the Board of Commissioners voted to oppose the order ‘as written,’ but not the order in general. In other words, the BOC wanted to expand the scope of the order through further negotiations, not block it entirely.)

Wilmington City Council vote

According to a draft copy of a resolution opposing the consent order, Wilmington City Council will site the order’s failure to provide “equal protection under the law,” specifically the order’s specific provisions for Bladen County and lack such provisions for New Hanover County (the order also ignores Brunswick and Pender County).

A draft version of the city's resolution to oppose a $13 million settlement between the state and Chemours. (Port City Daily photo / City of Wilmington)
A draft version of the city’s resolution to oppose a $13 million settlement between the state and Chemours. (Port City Daily photo / City of Wilmington)

The resolution to oppose the order makes five main points:

  1. Fails to require health studies of all PFAS compounds released by Chemours to establish combined release levels safe for human health,
  2. Measures pollution as a reduction from an unspecified discharge amount rather than a maximum permitted discharge below the level safe for human health,
  3. Excludes the public, and downstream municipalities and utilities from participation, or even comment, on the implementation of the order,
  4. Denys [sic] equal protection under law to Wilmington water consumers by guaranteeing clean drinking water to upstream users while leaving down stream users to fend for themselves through private lawsuits, and
  5. Releases Chemours of all liability for down stream pollution of ground water, sediment, and storm water runoff

The resolution concludes, “Now therefore be it resolved that the Wilmington City Council hereby declares their opposition to the Consent Order citing and adopting in full the CFPUA Comments, and respectfully request that the Court deny the Consent Order.”

Wilmington City Council meets for its agenda briefing on Monday, Jan. 7, at 8:30 a.m. and the post-briefing discussion (which will also include the topics of electric scooters and short-term rentals) will be broadcast here. The regular meeting for City Council will be held Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 6:30 in City Hall.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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