Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo is telling state leaders to stop politicizing the investigation into fixing the GenX water issue.
Saffo said this Thursday after Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 56, which would amend several environmental laws and free up $435,000 to fund the GenX water investigation. The bill was passed by the Republican led legislature in Raleigh.
"I would tell both the legislature and the governor we want you to get it together, work together and get us a policy," Saffo said. "Get us some resources down here to monitor the water quality of the drinking water. I think the citizens at the end of the day don't care who does it, where the money comes from, but let's just get it done."
Governor Cooper said Thursday the $435,000 in extra funding was nowhere near the $2.6 million requested. He said none of the money in the bill would have gone to state agencies that plan to find a permanent solution to the GenX issue. Instead, it is going to local groups including CFPUA and UNC Wilmington.
"This legislation provides zero dollars to the two agencies that set the standards for clean water and enforce the law. So, what we need is for the general assembly to pass legislation for those agencies that do that and we need to work together," Cooper said.
He went on to say that everyone needs to work on the issue together to find a solution.
“Scientists and engineers and monitors and people who write these permits they need help in making sure they can keep the water clean and we are going to provide them that help and we need the general assembly to do the same thing," he said.
“The people in the Wilmington and across this state deserve clean drinking water and we need to make sure that happens,” Cooper said.
Cooper released a statement regarding the veto as well.
"Clean water is critical for our health and our economy and this legislation fails to appropriate any needed funds to the departments in state government charged with setting standards and enforcing laws to prevent illegal chemical discharges into rivers used for drinking water," Gov. Cooper said. "In addition, it weakens protections from river pollution and landfills and repeals a local plastic bag ban supported by local governments and businesses that was passed to protect the environment."
Cooper shared more of his thoughts on the house bill in a Medium post:
"Clean drinking water is vital to every person and community in North Carolina and stopping threats to our water safety is a top priority for state government.
"The discovery of the chemical GenX in the Cape Fear River has emphasized that the threat posed by emerging, unregulated compounds will require resources to protect water across the state.
"When it comes to drinking water, there is no room for political posturing or hollow solutions. We must keep our eye on the ball to monitor our waterways and ensure that all North Carolinians can have full confidence in the water they drink.
"The legislation passed by the General Assembly, House Bill 56, provides no resources to the state agencies charged with protecting drinking water and preventing illegal chemicals from being discharged into our rivers. It gives the impression of action while allowing the long-term problem to fester. And it unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections for landfills, river basins, and our beaches.
"This cynical legislation fails to address the concerns of families in the Cape Fear region and does nothing to protect drinking water statewide going forward.
"That is why I am vetoing it.
"In recent years, state regulators have suffered repeated budget cuts that have left resources stretched thin – nearly 70 positions have been cut from the water quality department of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) alone since 2013. These cuts are particularly glaring when comparing North Carolina to other states.
"North Carolina has nine permit writers for 220 water discharge facilities. Meanwhile, South Carolina has almost twice as many officials overseeing far fewer facilities, as does Kentucky.
"These cuts have forced North Carolina to do more with less, straining state officials’ workload. Still, following reports of GenX in the Cape Fear River, state officials moved swiftly.
"DEQ successfully took action to stop Chemours from discharging GenX and two additional compounds that were going into the river. DHHS health experts worked with the EPA and DEQ to monitor GenX levels in the Cape Fear and ensure that families could continue to drink their water.
"As part of the response on GenX, DEQ and DHHS requested $2.6 million to put more experts on the ground – hiring engineers, monitors, permit writers and scientists. Unfortunately, HB 56 offers no support for these agencies. Instead this legislation diverts needed resources to the local utility and UNC-Wilmington and eliminates a local plastic bag ban supported by local governments and businesses that was passed to protect the environment in the Outer Banks.
"The urgent need to protect our state’s drinking water is not an issue that will soon go away. There are no short cuts, and the presence of GenX in groundwater in Fayetteville makes clear that the solution cannot be limited to Wilmington.
"This legislation doesn’t fix the problem, and that is why I’m vetoing it. I urge the legislature to take meaningful action to ensure the long-term safety of drinking water in North Carolina."
Senator Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) released the following statement in response to Cooper's veto of HB 56:
I am troubled that the governor would place politics ahead of public safety, and prioritize bureaucracy over results. He is now on record for rejecting the only proposal that will actually help clean our drinking water in the lower Cape Fear region.
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) also released a statement regarding the veto:
Shame on Gov. Cooper for vetoing a local solution, developed by this region’s local representatives, to immediately improve water quality for their constituents, neighbors and own families – simply because it did not achieve his preferred objective of growing a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis. I encourage my Senate colleagues to swiftly override his veto.
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