RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has given a high political profile to the discharge of the GenX chemical compound into the Cape Fear River. A joint legislative committee will meet Wednesday to begin investigating his administration’s handling of the problem.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announced Friday the newly appointed joint legislative Environmental Review Commission will convene a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the New Hanover County Government Center to look into chemical manufacturer Chemours’ discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River.
Despite Cooper and legislative leaders agreeing they want to ensure safe drinking water for residents along the lower Cape Fear, the GenX contamination has turned into a political skirmish. A committee with a decided Republican tilt will investigate. It has a 10-2 majority of House members, and a 6-2 split of senators.
The state Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Health and Human Services have requested $2.58 million to investigate the GenX release.
DEQ said it needs to hire additional staff to tackle the work. DHHS said it needs money to create a Water Health and Safety Unit to enhance the state’s understanding of unregulated compounds, its response to them, and to help protect families’ drinking water.
Cooper’s action plan includes directing the State Bureau of Investigation’s Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit to consider a criminal investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina subpoenaed a host of records from DEQ, and set an Aug. 22 deadline for the records to go to a grand jury based in Wilmington.
Lawmakers have raised questions about the administration’s response, and state environmental agencies’ activity in monitoring Chemours’ release of the unregulated compound from its Fayetteville industrial plant.
Senators sent a letter to Cooper on Aug. 9 demanding answers to a series of pointed questions, including why an SBI investigation is being considered when DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said Chemours did not break the law.
Regan, DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, and Chemours officials will be invited to Wednesday’s hearing and answer questions. Members of the public are also invited to comment. More hearings are anticipated.
“It is important for legislators to visit the lower Cape Fear region and hear from local families, public officials and environmental experts,” Moore and Berger said in their joint statement.
“Legislative hearings will provide a transparent process to help lawmakers and the public understand what happened, review the administration’s handling of this matter, and hopefully begin the process of identifying ways for the administration to address the immediate problem of GenX contamination in our water,” they said.
Newly appointed House members of the Environmental Review Commission are Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, co-chair; Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, co-chair; Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, vice-chair; Rep. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes; Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford; Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan; Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender; and Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen.
House advisory members are Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person; Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover; Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick; and Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover.
Senate appointees are Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, chair; Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg; Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash; Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort; Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson; Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico; Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton; and Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba
Also on Friday, the House and Senate briefly convened in special session, and adjourned without taking any votes. Lawmakers will tackle legislative redistricting, with public hearings scheduled on Tuesday. They could act to override six vetoes by Cooper, or approve conference committee reports, but no action is expected to take place until late next week.