SOUTHEASTERN NC (WECT) - Every campaign season, televisions are inundated with countless political ads either touting a candidate’s success or maligning the position or experience of an opponent.
WECT has run advertisements for both sides of the political aisle as well as a few bipartisan spots. As paid advertisements, WECT does not fact-check or edit these spots prior to them being aired.
However, in the spirit of keeping voters informed, WECT has taken a look at the claims made in the ads, checking for what is fact, and what needs further clarification.
In particular, we looked at the ads that feature GenX and the water quality turmoil in the region over the last two years.
A vast majority of the ads airing on WECT include at least a passing reference to GenX or clean water, and what a candidate has or has not done to deal with the issue.
In addition to ads run by candidates, multiple third-party groups purchased advertisements in opposition to candidates, citing their response to GenX.
Ads from the Committee to Elect Harper Peterson as well as NC Common Ground appeared, accusing Michael Lee of being more focused on lobbyists than those drinking the water in southeastern North Carolina.
“When CFPUA covered up the contamination, Michael Lee gave them a new $450,000 contract and put them in charge of monitoring water quality.” – Committee to Elect Harper Peterson
CFPUA announced in 2017 through emails and in public meetings that it had known about the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River as early as May 2016.
Senate Bill 99 allotted $450,000 to CFPUA, and requires the funds to be used for sampling finished drinking water from Sweeney Water Treatment Plant and the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) well in order to quantify levels of existing PFAS.
Remaining funds will go toward testing how effective mobile treatment units are at removing PFAS compounds from groundwater in the ASR.
“Michael Lee cut programs that monitor water quality, and worked with lobbyists to protect polluters from more testing.” – Committee to Elect Harper Peterson
Several changes were made to Senate Bill 99 as the bill moved through the General Assembly, including a few at the request of lobbyists for companies, including Chemours. Those changes included reducing the number of contaminants testing would identify. Instead of testing for a wide-range of chemicals, the funded testing would be limited to GenX and similar PFAS.
The type of equipment used in the testing was also different than what the Department of Environmental Quality asked the state for, and would only test for specific chemicals programmed into it, rather than a wide array.
Advocates for emissions controls, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, acquiesced to the changes.
In an advertisement disputing Peterson’s claims, Lee claimed the former mayor has no plan for how to deal with GenX.
“[Peterson] just goes on TV and blames me for GenX. That’s ridiculous. He has no solution, and I did.” – Michael Lee Candidate for NC Senate
Peterson’s official campaign website lists his position on water safety, and at an election-themed power breakfast held by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, he spoke about his platform.
Peterson says he wants to increase funding for DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services and wants to strengthen drinking water monitoring requirements.
Michael Lee, Holly Grange and Ted Davis
NC Common Ground, an organization not officially affiliated with any political party, purchased an advertisement opposing three incumbent candidates at once.
“Legislators Davis, Grange and Lee voted to cut funding for the very agency charged with protecting our water from chemicals like GenX." - NC Common Ground
On June 22, 2017, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 257, which cut funding to DEQ by $1.8 million over two years. From 2010-17, the DEQ budget was reduced by around $110 million.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but a veto-override passed 76 to 43 in the Senate, and 352 to 34 in the House.
“[Grange and Davis]'s votes to let lobbyists for the biggest chemical polluters write regulations on GenX.” – Conservation Votes PAC.
In a similar ad to that of NC Common Ground, Conservation Votes makes reference to Senate Bill 99, which was changed at the request of a lobbying group.
“I wrote the clean water act, and it’s been recognized by leading scientists for its comprehensive approach to protecting our drinking water.” – Michael Lee Candidate for NC Senate
Lee was a co-sponsor on Senate Bill 724, titled the Water Safety Act, which was introduced in May 2018 and referred into committee with no action recorded by the end of the 2017-2018 session.
The act would have allowed the governor to shut down corporations found to be illegally discharging chemicals like GenX, and would mandate and fund monitoring and recovery mechanisms for water sources.
Lee Ferguson, a professor at Duke University, wrote a column for the Wilmington Star-News referencing the Water Safety Act. Michael Lee has referenced the opinion piece multiple times, including at the GWBJ Power Breakfast.
New Hanover County Commission candidate Skip Watkins referenced GenX, if indirectly, in a post-Florence campaign ad.
“I believe in recruiting clean industries, because I care about the public health and safety of our community. Your families deserve clean drinking water.” – Skip Watkins Campaign
Members of the county commission have been vocal about the GenX issue, though only a few times along party lines. Watkins joined fellow Republicans on the commission in calling for an override of Governor Cooper’s veto of House Bill 56.