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State gives reservoir project an unprecedented pass

By Bruce Henderson - The Charlotte Observer - The state agency charged with protecting North Carolina’s waters let plans for a controversial water-supply reservoir west of Charlotte advance with no scrutiny. Cleveland County Water, which serves rural residents, had labored since 2000 to win approval for the impoundment. Environmental rules make reservoirs hard to build because they drown streams, wetlands and rare species. In an unprecedented move, the N.C. Division of Water Quality made the path easier. The division simply waived a state permit that says the project won’t hurt water quality. The decision last month came after Republican-led legislators ordered regulators to collaborate with communities in building reservoirs. Federal authorities disagree on the Cleveland County reservoir’s impact. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also has to sign off on the reservoir, says it would cover 1,500 acres of forest and farmland, destroying 24 miles of streams, six acres of wetlands and a federally threatened plant community. The Environmental Protection Agency has also urged the county to look for alternatives. Federal authorities can’t approve projects that may hurt water quality, from freeway construction to hydroelectric dams, until the state does. That gives North Carolina a veto to stop environmental damage or allow it with special conditions.
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N.C. attorney general: Duke Energy’s profit margin hurts consumers

By Bruce Henderson Attorney General Roy Cooper continues to hammer at Duke Energy Carolinas’ latest rate hike, saying the utility’s profit margin is too high and unsupported by Duke’s evidence. Cooper, whose duties include advocating for consumers, won his appeal of Duke Carolinas’ 2011 rate case, which increased rates 7.2 percent. The N.C. Supreme Court ruled this year that the state Utilities Commission didn’t fully document the impact to customers of the return on equity, or profit margin for shareholders, granted Duke. Cooper says the ruling should lead to lower utility profits and customer rates in other cases, including the one now before regulators.
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Division of Water Resources staff to get details on DENR restructuring, cuts

The director of the state water quality and resources program will address section leadership Wednesday morning about the recent changes the program is going through – including restructuring and possible staff cuts. At the beginning of August, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources consolidated its Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources. The move brought Water Quality under the umbrella of Water Resources. “Tom Reeder, the (water resources) division director, will be addressing his section chiefs about consolidation of the two divisions,” said Jamie Kritzer, a spokesman for DENR. He was not able to elaborate. In the coming months, the Division of Water Resources’ leadership will look at what regulations and practices can be trimmed to make the combined program more efficient.
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Letter to Gov. McCrory Regarding S 515, Delay Jordan Lake Water Quality Act

If you have problems reading this letter, please click here.

 

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New regulatory reform bill covers 'fracking,' smoking rules, more

By Mark Binker RALEIGH, N.C. — The Senate Rules Committee is looking over a new version of House Bill 74, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which knits together several different regulatory reform bills lawmakers have seen this session. Committee members will have a chance to think over the bill Wednesday night, and they will debate and take a vote on the bill Thursday.
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House OKs more modest terminal groin bill

By Laura Leslie RALEIGH, N.C. — State House lawmakers voted 80-33 Wednesday to ease restrictions on four terminal groin projects at the coast. The House version of Senate Bill 151 is a far cry from from the original Senate version, which would allow terminal groin construction in every inlet in the state, as well as removing parts of current law intended to protect property owners and taxpayers.
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Jordan Lake’s troubled waters

The more than 300,000 people in the western Triangle who rely on Jordan Lake for their drinking water got a message from the General Assembly last week: Let them drink blame. In this case, blame comes in the flavor of blue-green algae that is blooming in the lake because of increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing in from areas upstream, primarily from Burlington and Greensboro. State and local officials and citizens worked for years to develop requirements known as the Jordan Lake rules to limit upstream pollutants. Most local governments in the watershed have taken steps to comply, but some in Guilford and Alamance counties have resisted. They say the rules limit how their land can be used for residential and industrial development and require costly changes to wastewater treatment and stormwater control systems.
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Editorial: Meddling - North Carolina lawmakers try to hamstring fracking rules

This is an excerpt from an editorial in the Fayetteville Observer that ran on July 1: Drilling companies are reluctant to reveal the chemical content of those fluids, although it's known that some of them are toxic and an accident could carry them into a community's drinking water. The governor and legislative leaders have pledged to make this state's fracking regulations the most transparent and protective in the country. They did, at least, until the drilling companies began to protest, saying those chemicals are "trade secrets." And now lawmakers are trying to take control of drilling fluids away from the commission.
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Fracking Commission to lawmakers: Hands off!

The head of the state's fracking commission has asked Republican lawmakers to honor a hands-off policy with regard to shale gas exploration. N.C. Mining & Energy Commission Chairman James Womack wrote to lawmakers that the legislature's recent attempt to trump the commission's work not only creates the potential for abuse by the energy industry but also stirs up North Carolina's anti-fracking opponents. The warning is the latest development in a fracking subplot unfolding between the year-old commission and the state legislature that created the commission last year to write 120-plus safety rules to govern fracking in the state. Womack, a Republican himself, sent a 2-page letter late Sunday to the Republican leaders in the legislature: N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis. The letter, which was carbon-copied to all N.C. House and Senate members, follows a unanimous vote Friday by the commission. Commissioners are exercised about a recent Senate committee vote to bypass the commission on the most important issue of fracking safety: chemical disclosure.
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H 201 Passes Out of Committee, Increases Operating Costs of New Buildings

RALEIGH, NC - Earlier today the Senate Commerce Committee approved H 201 on a voice vote. The bill would revert commercial building codes to 2009 standards, which are effectively 2004 standards. In other words, H 201 would reduce minimum energy efficiency requirements in commercial construction by 30%. The bill now heads to the full Senate. “Energy efficient building codes put North Carolinians to work. The current code creates jobs in a wide range of industries including manufacturing, transportation and the design and construction of new buildings” said Molly Diggins, State Director. Mississippi, which has historically ranked last in the country in efficiency standards, has an improved building code going into effect on July 1, 2013. South Carolina’s current minimum code for commercial buildings would be 15% more efficient than North Carolina’s if H 201 becomes law. “For businesses seeking to open up shop in the Southeast, North Carolina would become far less attractive than our neighbors for the cost of operating commercial buildings”, said Diggins. “Energy bills for new commercial buildings in our state would be 15% to 30% higher than South Carolina and Mississippi.”
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