The leader of the State House on Thursday announced the convening of a legislative hearing to investigate the discharging of GenX into the Cape Fear River.
The committee appointments are not yet known but House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said that the names would be released in the coming days.
GenX is a by-product of Teflon production from the chemical company Chemours, an offshoot of DuPont, that is currently not regulated for discharge into water.
“I’ll be announcing committee appointments in the coming days to convene investigative hearings on the GenX issue as soon as possible,” Moore said.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) also released a statement on the issue saying, “We will conduct a thorough legislative hearing to review the administration’s handling of the GenX matter and carefully ensure environmental agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities of protecting drinking water for North Carolinians.”
Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), a state House member who represents the affected lower Cape Fear region, said, “My priority is to protect the people of New Hanover County, guarantee they have clean drinking water and get to the bottom of the GenX discharge as soon as possible.”
The House’s announcement comes just two days after Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) made a similar announcement.
Berger’s announcement followed on the heels of a letter sent to Gov. Cooper requesting more information before agreeing to appropriate $2.58 million that Cooper requested to study the GenX contamination.
After Cooper failed to adequately answer the “overwhelming majority of direct questions they posed about inconsistencies in his administration’s handling of the discharge of GenX in the Cape Fear River” Berger declared his intentions to call a hearing to investigate the issue.
Speaking on behalf of the group of senators who wrote the original letter, Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) said, “Families in the lower Cape Fear region deserve to know that they have clean, safe drinking water, and that they can trust the state agencies responsible for keeping our water safe. We are disappointed in Gov. Cooper’s proposed response to this crisis because it does nothing to actually address the immediate problem of GenX in our drinking water.
“What’s worse, when we asked the governor serious questions about how his proposal would truly improve water quality in the region and when his administration knew about the GenX discharge into the Cape Fear River, we were met with an evasive, dismissive and unserious response.
“Gov. Cooper needs to work together with the legislature to get the honest answers to these questions that our constituents and the public expect. Then we must work together to develop a plan to address the immediate problem of GenX contamination in our water. In the coming days, we intend to exercise our legislative oversight responsibilities to move this process along.”
It isn’t just state leaders who are looking for answers and action in the wake of the realization that GenX was being found in the lower Cape Fear River.
The head of the conservative Civitas Institute sent a letter to the leaders of the state House and Senate asking that they allocate funds to the public water systems in the lower Cape Fear region to enable them to move quickly to improve their filtration equipment to remove the GenX compound.
Civitas President Francis De Luca asked that the funds be made available from state reserves and through the Connect NC bond for the infrastructure to improve the water filtration technologies.
In a comment included in the release De Luca said, “Senator Berger and Speaker Moore should lead the legislature to swift action on this issue. To make it a legislative priority would show true leadership where there has been none from the governor. In fact, Governor [Roy] Cooper’s only ‘solution’ to this current crisis has been to further fund state agencies that allowed the problems with the water supply in the first place.”
The letter was sent to both Berger and Moore.
In the letter De Luca said, “I know you are fully aware of the circumstances that have impacted the lower Cape Fear region and have received a request from Governor Roy Cooper for millions in funding to be given to state agencies that are at the heart of the problem and slow response.”
De Luca said that sending the money directly to the affected areas is a “more effective, direct way to respond” and that the money should not come in the form of a recurring expense.
The Civitas Institute, not known for advocating for additional state spending, said that this expense could “be taken in a responsible way with little impact on the NC taxpayer or future budgets.”
De Luca suggested that the funds be distributed through the State Treasurer’s office to ensure that the funds were used to finance solutions and were not bogged down in bureaucracy.
He also called for legislation modifying or suspending state contracting and purchasing laws to allow those receiving the money that are impacted by the Genx issue to expedite the process in the face of the possible public health threat.
Already Civitas has sent a letter to Chemours, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency claiming illegal conduct under the Clean Water Act.
The letter stated that if DEQ has not adequately addressed its claims within 60 days of notification, as required by law, the Institute may file a lawsuit in federal court under the CWA for illegal acts.
The letter also says that shortly after sending its letter the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina subpoenaed DEQ’s records related to GenX.
In the letter De Luca said that the “actions we have taken to date were necessitated by a lack of action and transparency from the Cooper administration. In addition, we have noted that none of the usual environmental activists’ groups, which backed Cooper in his run for governor, seemed interested in pressuring his administration to act. Our call for the legislature to act is also necessitated by the fact that the Cooper administration may be under federal investigation for their actions in this matter.”
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority also sent a notice of their own, triggering their own 60-day period for potentially filing a suit to enforce the CWA as well.
The CWA, first written in 1948 and amended in 1972, established the basic structure for the discharge of pollutants in the waters of the United States giving the EPA authority to implement pollution controls, through the actions of the many states.
Under the CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting process a permit is required to discharge any toxin into navigable U.S. waters.