Nearly two months into the 2015 Long Session, the N.C. General Assembly is up to full speed after snow and ice slowed activity in late February. City officials have jumped into the action and over 450 League members head to Raleigh tomorrow to speak with legislative leaders as part of the League's annual Town Hall Day event.
While legislative attention for environmental issues continued to be dominated by coal ash and hydraulic fracturing, legislative leadership for environmental committees was selected and included:
N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Donald van der Vaart has been busy since starting the job at the beginning of the year. With budget constraints, the Secretary indicated to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources that DENR's focus will be on enforcement and permitting. In addition, Secretary van der Vaart announced his leadership team and the League looks forward to working with this well-qualified staff, including:
N.C. Division of Water Resources (DWR) continued its work this month on the expansive "periodic review of rules" process mandated by HB 74 Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 by announcing a stakeholder process to assist in the readoption of nearly all of the state's water quality rules.
The N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) promulgates over 1,200 of the state's 23,000+ rules. Included among its 1,200 rules are 273 rules addressing water quality. As part of the legislatively-mandated rule review process, legislators specifically directed a review of these water quality rules first. Those rules included many regulations affecting cities and towns, such as the rules governing wastewater discharges, stormwater programs, buffers, reclaimed water, land application of biosolids, and various nutrient management strategies.
With the 2B, 2H, 2T, and 2U water-related rules already through the rule review process and determined to be “necessary with substantive public interest” -- a categorization requiring readoption of the rules -- DWR announced an extensive stakeholder process to assist in preparing any changes to the rules prior to readoption by the EMC. Specifically, DWR scheduled five stakeholder meetings, organized by rule topic and scheduled bi-weekly on Tuesdays between March 24 and May 19. Following these stakeholder meetings, the draft rules will be presented to the EMC in the fall, initiating the formal rulemaking process.
The League contracted with Jay Sauber, a Raleigh-based water quality expert, to assist in assuring positive changes for municipalities in this process. Due to the technical nature of the rules and competing interests of other stakeholders, the expertise offered by Mr. Sauber will be a benefit to all municipalities and was supported by the League's Regulatory Technical Assistance Fund.
At the suggestion of League members, DWR plans to also create a Criteria Implementation Committee (CIC) that will focus on implementation challenges, and last week the League nominated two members to serve. While the creation of the CIC addressed some of the League's concerns regarding the process of providing expert input on these state regulatory proposals, the League and other stakeholders continued to push for the SAC and CIC to operate together and in consultation with one another. This cooperation is crucial because the SAC's work product will have huge impacts on nutrient regulation implementation costs borne by municipalities.
DWR began developing the NCDP in late 2012, and since then, the Division solicited public comment four times. The League commented on the Plan each of these times. The NCDP is required as part of an agreement between DWR and EPA that outlines a work plan for regulators to use in addressing nutrient impairments across the state. Similar work plans, negotiated for all states receiving EPA funding, contain a description of an agency's tasks, timelines, and milestones for NNC development. The League participated in all previous NCDP efforts and reported extensively on them in previous EcoLINC articles:
With the N.C. General Assembly convening for daily work at the end of January, legislative attention on environment issues continued to be dominated by the two topics that have grabbed headlines for the past several years: coal ash and hydraulic fracturing. However, legislators introduced the following legislation of interest to cities and towns that operated state- and federal-regulated programs:
DWR gave public notice of its proposed buffer mitigation rule, with the comment period ending April 17...DENR's Stormwater Permitting Program sought feedback on the recently-released Minimum Design Criteria (MDC) for stormwater control measures...DWR also recently created a web-based impaired waters map based on NC's 2014 303(d) list...In addition, DENR announced that a public hearing for the proposed Kerr Lake Regional Water System IBT Certificate will be held on March 31 at the Henderson City Hall...DENR also proposed modifications to existing NPDES wastewater discharge permits and drafted permits for stormwater discharges for the Allen, Marshall and Riverbend coal ash facilities near Charlotte; comments can be submitted until May 5...The Golden LEAF Foundation provided a $500,000 grant to extend St. Pauls' wastewater utilities to an industrial park where Sanderson Farms will build the chicken processing plant...UNC researchers experimented with DNA tests to see whether large-scale hog farms are illegally allowing hog manure to pollute rivers and other surface waters; they also found DNA from bacteria that live in the digestive systems of hogs more frequently downstream of several farms than upstream...EPA approved the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to administer a water quality standards program under the CWA, determining that the EBCI is eligible to be treated in a manner similar to a state for setting standards and issuing water quality certifications...EPA gave public notice of its fourth Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 4), a draft list of contaminants that are currently not subject to any drinking water regulations, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and may require future regulation under the SDWA...EPA also announced its final rule for implementing the 2008 ozone national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) to addresses a range of nonattainment area state implementation plan (SIP) requirements...The City of Rutland, VT filed suit in U.S. District Court to challenge a 2009 EPA-approved TMDL cleanup plan, arguing that EPA exceeded its authority by limiting stormwater flow, reviving the legal debate over whether EPA can use flow as a surrogate for reducing runoff pollution... Attorneys for EPA argued to the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals that a judicially-approved consent decree with a Chicago water district, intended to reduce sewer overflows, did not bar environmentalists from bringing citizen suits for future sanitary sewer overflows.