This week the focus at the NC General Assembly was on the Senate budget, which passed the chamber this morning. The budget will next go into conference - which means that a select group of House and Senate members appointed by leadership will meet in private to work out the many differences between the House and Senate versions.
The conference process lacks transparency and accountability since there’s no way for the public to know what’s being debated behind closed doors. When a conference report is agreed upon the chambers will vote on the compromise but amendments will not be allowed. Then the budget will be sent to the Governor for consideration; he may sign it, let it become law without his signature or veto it.
Senate budget targets electric vehicles and DEQ and seeks to help hog farms
The Senate’s proposed budget would increase the additional fee at registration for electric vehicles from $130 to $230, in addition to other required fees. This fee on electric vehicles would be the highest of any state.
Further, a brand-new additional registration fee of $115 would be put in place for plug-in hybrid vehicles; there is no such fee on these vehicles now. The ostensible reason for the fees is to make up for the loss of gas tax revenue for road maintenance, but a NC Clean Energy Technology Center study determined that drivers of electric vehicles are already paying more than their fair share through the current fees.
Several provisions in the Senate budget appear to target the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) specifically among state agencies. One would require DEQ to pay rent to the state and another would require DEQ to eliminate two organizational layers. Notably absent from the Senate budget is funding for new DEQ staff who would address emerging contaminants like GenX. The Governor’s budget requested $6.3M to analyze water for emerging compounds and the House budget provided approximately $600,000 for this purpose.
In addition, the Senate budget would delay and undermine DEQ’s updated general permit for waste management at swine and other animal operations. The recently finalized permit’s most significant positive change is a requirement to monitor groundwater at farms that have waste lagoons or waste storage facilities in the 100-year floodplain, situations that may present the greatest risk of groundwater contamination. It’s the first time the state has required groundwater monitoring of an animal waste system.
In the Senate budget debate most amendments proposed by Democrats were tabled - which means instead of voting on an amendment, it was set aside and not allowed to be voted on. This parliamentary maneuver is used to avoid votes and accountability on controversial issues. For example, Sen. Wiley Nickel (D - Wake) proposed an amendment to delete the electric vehicle fees but it was tabled. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D - Mecklenburg) proposed an amendment to provide DEQ funding to renovate a lab; it was also tabled. Sen. Mike Woodard (D - Durham, Granville, Person) spoke up objecting to the harmful environmental provisions in the budget. Please thank these Senators for defending the environment!
Senate committee considers handouts to the hog industry in the Farm Act
On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture & Environment Committee considered S 315 North Carolina Farm Act, sponsored by Senators Brent Jackson (R - Duplin, Johnson, Sampson), Norm Sanderson (R - Carteret, Craven, Pamlico), and Todd Johnson (R - Union). The bill contains provisions to help the hog industry at the expense of the public.
One provision would keep certain agricultural documents that are currently considered public records secret. Another provision would exempt hog farms that install biogas digesters from the permitting requirements to meet higher environmental standards that would normally be required with technology changes, as long as they are not expanding the number of hogs at the farm. And another provision would create a new exemption to odor rules for farms storing waste for future energy use.
None of these provisions help to address the air and water contamination associated with factory-farms that can be harmful to neighbors. Please thank Senators Harper Peterson (D - New Hanover) and Mike Woodard (D - Durham, Granville, Person) for asking questions and commenting against these provisions in committee. The committee plans to vote on the Farm Act on Wednesday.
Opportunity for Action
Please contact your Senator and ask them to oppose the giveaways to the swine industry that are in Senate Bill 315 - the Farm Act.
Thanks for taking action!