This week, a House committee continued to examine the presence of GenX, and other contaminants, in the Cape Fear River. Meanwhile, Representative William Brisson announced that he would be switching party affiliation, a three-judge federal panel appointed a Special Master to examine the General Assembly’s legislative redistricting plan, and the Senate appointed a committee that will examine judicial redistricting.
River Quality Committee Discusses GenX
On Thursday, the House Select Committee on NC River Quality met for a second time to hear informative presentations on the presence of GenX, an unregulated chemical compound that is a byproduct of chemicals manufactured at the Chemours Fayetteville Works site, in the Cape Fear River. The House and Senate have both appointed select committees to review and respond to GenX; the Senate committee met earlier this month.
First, the committee heard from Dr. Detlef Knappe, an engineering professor at NC State University, who presented to the committee on his study of contaminants in the Cape Fear River basin. The River is the largest watershed in NC and supplies approximately 1.5 million people with drinking water. Dr. Knappe focused on Bromide, 1,4-Dioxane, and Per-Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS), which he identified as “contaminants of concern.” According to his presentation, these chemicals are the “tip of the iceberg” of the universe of chemicals: roughly 200 chemicals have been tested for health effects while another approximately 80,000 chemical substances are registered for use in the US and roughly 700 new chemicals are added each year.
The committee then heard updates from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), both Departments addressed the committee last month. Sheila Holman, DEQ Assistant Secretary for Environment, informed the committee on efforts by the Divisions of Water Resources, Waste Management and Air Quality, includes ongoing sampling of groundwater, private wells, surface water and the river. DHHS State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson updated the committee on DHHS’ efforts, which includes continued work to examine the human health risks of exposure to GenX, which currently remain unknown. Next, State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore reviewed a study to the committee that examined the rates of five types of cancers in Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties over a twenty-year timeline. Dr. Moore stated that there are no substantial differences between the four counties and the rest of the state in that time period.
Additionally, the committee received an update from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), which was appropriated funds to respond to GenX after the legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of HB 56: Amend Environmental Laws earlier this month. CFPUA Executive Director Jim Fletchner updated the committee on the response measures underway, which includes water supply monitoring and evaluating water treatment alternatives for removing PFAS, GenX and other emerging compounds from the water supply.
Finally, Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette spoke to the committee, expressing his connection to the river and his fear of the unknown regarding the health effects of exposure to emerging contaminants.
Party Affiliation Change Increases GOP Advantage in House
On Wednesday Rep. William Brisson, who represents parts of Bladen, Sampson and Johnston counties, announced that he will be changing his party affiliation and will run as a Republican for his seventh term in 2018.
In an interview with WECT-TV, Rep. Brisson said that he has always been a conservative Democrat and hopes to better serve his rural constituents as a Republican.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) welcomed Rep. Brisson to the House GOP Caucus, saying he is “a steadfast voice for the priorities of his people.” In a statement, NC Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin called Rep. Brisson an “honest public servant, but one who rarely caucuses with Democrats and votes more than nine time out of ten with the Republican majority.”
Senate to Take On Judicial Reform
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) appointed members to a new Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting on Tuesday. In a statement, Sen. Berger said that the committee “will carefully consider all options on how we select judges including the House’s judicial redistricting bill, merit selection models, retention election, and, if we maintain a system of elections, their frequency and partisan structure.” The committee will be chaired by Sens. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick).
Special Master Appointed in Legislative Redistricting Case
Since the legislature approved new legislative maps in August, the three-judge federal panel that initially ordered redistricting has been weighing the constitutionality of the House and Senate plans.
Yesterday, and order was filed by the panel to appoint a Special Master to look at nine legislative districts that the judges are concerned “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.” Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University who has worked as a Special Master or court-appointed redistricting expert in five states and Puerto Rico, will work with the panel to remedy any problems with the current plans, which may include redrawing NC’s legislative maps. An official ruling on the case is expected soon.
The districts in question are House Districts 21, which includes portions of Duplin, Sampson and Wayne Counties, 36, 37,40 and 41 In Wake County, 57 in Guilford County and 105 in Mecklenburg, as well as Senate Districts 21, which includes portions of Cumberland County as well as Hoke County and 28 in Guilford County.
In a joint statement, House and Senate elections committee chairs Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) said that they believe the order will be reversed and that “the order provides absolutely no legal or factual basis for objecting to the new maps, while also potentially delegating the legislature’s constitutional authority to draw districts to a lone professor in California.”
A Look Ahead to Next Week
Next week, the following legislative and executive branch meetings will be held:
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
11:30 AM Bi-Annual Planning and Work Session of the NC State Board of Education
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
9:00 AM Bi-Annual Planning and Work Session of the NC State Board of Education
10:00 AM Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform
11:30 AM Monthly Meeting of the NC Board of Transportation
1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance
Thursday, November 2, 2017
9:00 AM Monthly Meeting of the NC State Board of Education
1:00 PM Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee