House Bill 765, aka the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, which Governor McCrory signed into law October 23rd, started out as a relatively innocuous bill regarding the transport of gravel in rural areas. The NC Senate added 50 pages of provisions, many of which can have serious environmental consequences. It appears that on the provision regarding air monitors, however, the conference committee listened to concerns expressed by the NC Division of Air Quality (NCDAQ) and other air quality advocates.
In order to understand the significance of the language change, it helps to be familiar with the air monitoring system in NC. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA currently requires NC to maintain a network of monitors across the state that measure six pollutants. The DAQ maintains additional special purpose monitors; some measure chemicals like air toxics that do not fall under the EPA requirements, others establish baseline data prior to the permitting of an industrial polluter, such as the monitor placed in Lee County in anticipation of shale gas development.
As originally written, provision 4.25 called for the DEQ to shut down all air quality monitors that the EPA does not explicitly require. The provision showed up in the second edition of the bill in April. In response, the DAQ provided the legislature with a report listing each monitor and the rationale for maintaining it. Despite the report, the provision persisted in bill rewrites over the summer. When the bill went into conference committee, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air members, as well as partners including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the NC Conservation Network, joined with the DAQ to urge the legislators to acknowledge the state agency’s own determination that these monitors are necessary for protecting public health. The conference committee changed the language of provision 4.25 to reflect DAQ’s current practice, and allow DAQ scientists to do their job determining when monitors are necessary.
Thanks to all of our clean air advocates who contacted their legislators objecting to this bill and the proposed reduction in air quality monitors.