Making Corporate Polluters Pay!
Over the last few years, North Carolina has been devastated by several environmental assaults. In 2015 Duke Energy accidently released 39,000 tons of coal ash, and another 27,000 gallons of plant wastewater, into the Dan River. In September of 2018, Hurricane Florence caused more of Duke Energy’s coal ash to spill into the Cape Fear River, just 5 miles north of Wilmington. In 2017 it was discovered that Chemours (a child company of Dupont Chemical) has been discharging GenX (and other toxic chemicals related to the production of fluoropolymers such as teflon) into the Cape Fear River for years. Even after their own scientists knew of the toxic effects of GenX related chemicals on life. It is bad enough that these environmental assaults happened. But it is even worse that taxpayers (and Duke Energy customers) have had to pay the bulk of the costs related to cleanup.
Democrats have historically been strong public advocates for the environment. They often advocate for more stringent environmental regulations. However, when it comes to making these corporate polluters financially accountable, they are noticeably silent. Many Republicans, as well as Democrats, would rather that we pay for environmental cleanup, so they don’t upset the corporate special interests that fund their political careers. This type of undisciplined pragmatism is unacceptable. Principles Matter!
- I am an adamant supporter of property rights. Individuals and businesses should be able to use their land as they see fit. However, private property does not exist in a vacuum! Nobody has the right to pollute our shared environment: our air, water, land, and sea.
- There are many areas of concern that our state government should stay out of, and leave to local government and to the private sector. However, protecting the health and well-being of North Carolina’s citizens from cross-county environmental assaults is not one of them. Our state government has a duty to secure our life and medical health.
- The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is a joke. They have been granted a very limited financial budget to investigate violations of environmental law. They have very little in the way of power to actually force corporate polluters to comply. We need to transform DEQ into a powerful watchdog organization that has the power to shut down companies who don’t comply with reasonable demands. Such power should be wielded quickly and efficiently, like a health inspector who has found a restaurant serving contaminated food.
- Current environmental law in North Carolina is severely flawed and upside down. It only prohibits the discharge of chemicals (in certain amounts) that are already known to be health hazards. There are new and emerging contaminants, that DEQ doesn’t even know about, that are harming us. Corporations should not be allowed to discharge any substance into our shared environment, unless it has already been proven to be safe.
- Corporate polluters often know they are discharging harmful chemicals into our environment, but choose to ignore it. They figure that the cost of settling an eventual lawsuit is cheaper than actually changing their business and manufacturing processes. A powerful NC DEQ, armed with new and stringent environmental law, will be able to change the business calculus, and better protect the health of the people.
What Would I Do About It?
The Hardison Amendment currently states that North Carolina can not have stricter environmental laws than the EPA does. This is ridiculous! My first order of business would be to have the Hardison Amendment repealed. Secondly, I would advocate for new laws that would make it illegal to discharge any chemical into our shared environment that hasn’t already been proven to be safe.
I would work with the NC DEQ to come up with a plan to transform it into a powerful watchdog organization that has the “teeth” to go after corporate polluters. Corporate polluters will cease polluting, pay 100% of the cleanup costs involved with their malfeasance, or risk being immediately shut down! If the NC DEQ is “too far gone” to be transformed, then I would advocate that our state outsource this job to a private environmental enforcement agency.