State Republicans overrule veto by Gov. Cooper on GenX clean-up


Genevieve Guenther

Casey McAnarney, Editor-in-Chief

Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have overruled Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill on Thursday, Sept. 21, that North Carolina representatives formulated in response to the pollution of the Cape Fear River with the chemical GenX.

Gov. Cooper referred to House Bill 56 as “cynical,” according to Lynn Bonner of the News & Observer, because the bill allocated “inadequate” funds to the region for clean-up and did not target the proper areas for fixing this problem.

Those who sponsored the bill were Republican Representative Pat McElraft from District 13 (Emerald Isle, N.C.), Republican Representative Larry Yarborough from District 2 (Roxboro, N.C.), Republican Representative Larry G. Pittman of District 82 (Concord, N.C.) and Republican Representative Michele D. Presnell from District 118 (Burnsville, N.C.).

State Republicans were not pleased with this, and senate leader Phil Berger urged his colleagues to overrule the governor’s choice when the senate reconvened in October, which they did. According to the most up to date version of the bill, the bill “became law notwithstanding the objections of the Governor at 11:52 a.m. this 4th day of October, 2017.”

State environmentalists, however, applauded the governor’s decision. 

Based on the bill, the bill asked that whoever ends up cleaning the contaminated land provides financial reassurance as well as consolidate various water resources and water quality reports by the Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] and clarify the roles of geologists and soil scientists in wastewater system site evaluations. The latter means, “A person licensed pursuant to Chapter 89E of the General Statutes as a licensed geologist may evaluate the proposed site or repair area, as applicable, for geologic and hydrogeologic conditions,” according to HB 56.

The bill also aims to change some regulations on environmental protection: the bill repealed the plastic bag ban as well as a solid waste management program that the bill called “obsolete.”

The bill that was vetoed and now has become law was suggested by local Wilmington authorities and representatives, asking for $185,000 for the Cape Fear utility to test possible treatments for the water and $250,000 to UNC Wilmington to test the amount of GenX in the Cape Fear River’s sediment. Alternatively, the DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooper, asked for approximately “$2.6 million for public health and water monitoring efforts,” said Bonner.

Back in June, Wilmington residents were informed that Fayetteville-based factory Chemours (once DuPont) had leaked a chemical known as GenX into the Cape Fear River and that it was now in their water supply. The DEQ sued Chemours in early September over this pollution.