Gov. Roy Cooper, on Tuesday, announced that he will be requesting the legislature approve $14.5 million in state funding to address the safety concerns in the water and air regarding GenX in the Cape Fear region.
The funds would be split between the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with the vast majority going to DEQ, which would go to a variety of initiatives, mostly centered on expanding the research and analysis capabilities of the departments.
Cooper’s announcement comes ahead of the release of his proposed budget for the short session, set to begin next month.
“Protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe is critical, and my budget recommendations will give state agencies the tools they need to continue keeping North Carolina families healthy,” Cooper said. “Our administration has taken strong action to hold polluters accountable, but we need meaningful investments in water testing, permitting, and scientific analysis to protect our environment statewide.”
Nearly half of the money Cooper has requested would go to expand DEQ’s ability to collect and analyze water in the state, mostly through the funding of new positions at the department.
Cooper will request that $7 million go to fund 39 new full-time positions, which would include personnel to better conduct surface water, pore water and water supply well sampling and analysis across the state.
The expanded sampling is expected to help the state identify potential sources of contamination in groundwater, surface water, wastewater, soil and sediment.
The funds would also go to allow the Department of Air Quality to conduct rainwater collection and testing to understand the role that airborne contaminants have in pollution of groundwater through rainfall.
The expanded personnel is also expected to help the department clear the 40 percent backlog in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit renewals and help the state make informed decisions about what to do in regards to perflourinated compounds like GenX.
Another $1 million would go to purchasing new equipment for DEQ to be able to quickly test samples in house, which would also include six new full-time positions to operate the new equipment and process any samples sent for testing.
Cooper also requested $4.4 million to move DEQ’s permitting process to an electronic system to streamline the permitting process and “bring it into the 21st century.”
Cooper said the project would “better protect the environment without being a roadblock to economic growth” and that DEQ has launched a project to improve the permitting process by offering online access and tracking for all permits.
Cooper also wants another $1.5 million for DEQ to plan for upgrades to the states Reedy Creek Laboratory, which performs analysis of samples for water quality as well as air quality.
The recommended expenditures also include a little more than $500,000 that would go to DHHS to hire additional health experts to identify and prevent adverse health effects from toxic substances.
The positions would include a medical consultant to serve as a medical risk assessor, a PhD-level environmental toxicologist, a public health educator and a public health epidemiologist.
Cooper touted DEQ’s action on the GenX crisis, while taking a dig at legislative spending priorities when it came to DEQ over the last few budget cycles.
Cooper blamed budget cuts for the backlog of permit renewals, pointing at the reduced number of permit writers that North Carolina has in comparison to its neighbors.
“Budgets are about priorities, and our budget request shows that our number one priority is the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said. “We cannot do our job to the best of our ability without the technology and staff to actively monitor pollution in our state. We ask that the legislature partner with us to adequately fund DEQ for the first time in nearly a decade.”