Source: NC Newsline
The recently introduced House Bill 689 would codify North Carolina’s commitment to environmental justice by requiring state agencies to consider the cumulative pollution burdens on underserved neighborhoods when planning and approving new projects, according to NC Newsline.
Known as “cumulative burden,” historically underserved communities, particularly non-white and low-income communities, are disproportionately burdened by the siting of multiple polluters, including ones that have closed but leave behind a toxic legacy, peer-reviewed scientific analysis has shown.
Oftentimes pollution sources and companies that hold permits giving them the legal right to discharge and emit contaminants into the environment are clustered in underserved urban neighborhoods and rural areas, including Indigenous communities.
Areas of North Carolina that are experiencing the cumulative burden of clusters of polluters include west Charlotte, east Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Greenville.
In south Winston-Salem, NC Newsline reports that “there are four hazardous waste sites, three landfills, two contaminated dry cleaners, three tracts that are legally allowed to spread soil contaminated with gasoline or oil, 36 spills from underground petroleum storage tanks and another 18 from those above ground.” Of the 1,660 residents in the surrounding area, 74% are non-white and 88% are low-income.
“The permitting process does not protect people from harm,” Chris Hawn, co-director of research and education at the NC Environmental Justice Network, said at a listening session held by the governor’s office in March. “It allows industry to pollute. And somehow these industries are clustered in non-white communities. Somehow there are places there that’s okay.”
The bill would appropriate $500,000 in one-time funds to cover the cost of community outreach in an effort to include community residents in state-level discussions about environmental justice. Currently, the DEQ does hold public hearings on some proposed permits, however, the events are often buried in legal and engineering jargon, which can make the hearings bewildering for average residents.
The bill would also appropriate $250,000 in recurring funds to pay for a civil rights compliance director and two full-time employees to assist with the implementation of the environmental justice state policy, as well as support a new Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
The new council would be made up of 11 members, with specific appointee positions reserved for one appointee from a mobile home park, a representative of immigrant communities, one person working on food security issues and another representing a state-recognized American Indian tribe. The council would advise and give recommendations to state agencies and the General Assembly on issues relating to environmental justice.
An additional council made up of nine state agency heads or their designees, would help their respective agencies implement the environmental justice policy and advise the General Assembly.
All the primary sponsors of HB 689 are Democrats; Reps. Sarah Crawford and Rosa Gill (Wake), Vernetta Alston (Durham), Allan Busani (Orange), Kanika Brown (Forsyth), and Terry Brown Jr. (Mecklenburg).
House Bill 689 would apply to seven agencies: The Departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Commerce, Public Safety, Agriculture and Public Instruction. Additionally, the bill would apply to the NC Utilities Commission.