NC General Assembly overrides Cooper's veto of GenX research bill

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - The North Carolina General Assembly voted to override Governor Roy Cooper's veto of an environmental bill that in part included money for water testing, treatment, and research into GenX, a chemical that was discharged into the Cape Fear River.

The House and Senate gaveled in a veto-override session Wednesday morning. Within an hour, the House voted 70-44 to pass House Bill 56 notwithstanding Cooper's objections.

The Senate later voted 30-9 to approve the veto override. The bill now becomes law.

Local Republican and Democratic officials are split over the new law.

"I think in the short term, (the public) can breathe a sigh of relief because they will know that the utility authority has the resources necessary to continue its efforts to find the very best filtration system, and also that the university is now going to be equipped with the funding necessary to do continuous monitoring," New Hanover County Republican Commissioner Woody White said.

"It's just really a Band-Aid on a flesh wound, considering the fact that the point source of the of this contaminant is northwest of New Hanover County, and it's flowing to us," New Hanover County Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. said. "I don't know what CFPUA or UNCW can do to stop anything. In my opinion, we need to give the right funds to (the Department of Environmental Quality). They can get the right staffing in place to, No. 1, study, also eliminate and eradicate this problem, and at the same time regulate what Chemours is doing."

Cooper issued a statement in response to the veto override:

"When it comes to drinking water, legislators should put politics aside and listen to experts. This legislation does not solve the problem and fails to fund the agencies responsible for protecting drinking water and holding polluters accountable. It also unnecessarily rolls back other environmental protections and overturns a local plastic bag ban protecting beaches and water. Protecting drinking water from emerging contaminants will require a statewide solution and families shouldn't suffer under the illusion that this legislation starts fixing the problem."

The full 19-page law is below:

Cooper announced in late September that he would veto HB56 because the $435,000 set aside in the bill was nowhere close to the $2.6 million that his administration requested.

He said none of the money in the bill is allocated to state agencies that plan to find a permanent solution to the GenX issue. Instead, it is going to local groups including the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority 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 in his statement issued in September.

HB56 provides $185,000 to CFPUA to coordinate with the Pender and Brunswick County utilities for ongoing monitoring, withdrawal, treatment, and distribution of drinking water from the Cape Fear River.

UNCW will receive $250,000 to identify and measure the concentration of GenX and study what risk the contaminant poses to human health.

Senators Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) released a joint statement after the state legislature's veto override:

It's a shame that families in the lower Cape Fear region had to wait this long for a solution because of the governor's veto, but we are pleased our Senate colleagues ended the delay and helped make this local solution that will actually help clean our drinking water a reality.

Copyright 2017 WECT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.