The Wednesday, August 23, four-hour meeting of the state’s Environmental Review Commission—to discuss Chemours’ contamination of the Cape Fear River and drinking water supply for five counties, provided Senator Michael Lee with the floor, twice, with no time limit, while citizens waited for three hours to speak, and were strictly prohibited to two minutes each. I had to cut my comments to pieces to adhere to the guidelines, so I am hoping our local media will allow a little space for my full comments to be heard.
Honorable members of the North Carolina Environmental Review Commission:
My name is Dana Sargent. I am a resident of Wilmington, NC, and the mother of two girls.
As human health is directly reliant on environmental health, I hope you take the responsibility provided you as appointed members of the Environmental Review Commission very seriously. To the out-of-towners, welcome to the Cape Fear region; here, protecting the environment, beyond all of its obvious benefits, is also vital to sustaining our economy and our culture, which both rely on protecting and restoring our region’s unique natural resources.
It was disheartening for me to learn the commission does not accurately represent the morals of about half the population of North Carolina, being that there are only four democrats on the 20-member commission. (But, I guess that issue belongs in comments on redistricting the gerrymandered mess that is our state). I was alarmed to learn that 17 of the 20 members received lifetime scores between 0 and 37 percent from the NC League of Conservation Voters’ environmental scorecard, which analyzes voting records on environmental issues.
And where is Representative Deb Butler? Everybody in the delegation was appointed to this committee, except the one representative whose record proves she works for citizens, rather than corporations. Even after she specifically requested appointment—wondering if it was an oversight—she was denied. As I’m sure you know, Rep. Butler is the only elected official in our state who has approved the crucial funding requested by our underfunded, understaffed departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services. Moreover, she represents both New Hanover and Brunswick counties—the two areas hit hardest by the Chemours contamination crisis.
Most of you have supported legislation to gut environmental laws and programs under the auspices of limiting so-called “excessive” regulations on industry and saving state funding. That’s fake news. Those of us paying attention know the health and environmental costs of underfunding these programs far outweigh any short-term budgetary benefit, and the real reason for any legislative action threatening our environment and our health is done solely for the purpose of coddling corporations.
Your constituents are paying the price for your dirty dealings, at many levels. I met a father at a rally last week whose daughter has an extremely rare form of cancer that has been linked to compounds similar to GenX. Are you willing to tell this little girl you needed to gut these programs so you could make it easier on a billion-dollar, Fortune 500 company to increase their profits? In a perfect world, companies like DuPont and Chemours would not knowingly give kids cancer, but we don’t live there. They don’t regulate themselves. It is mandatory that our governments regulate them for us.
Your days of sucking up to corporations are numbered. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will continue to stand by and allow you to use us as pawns for political or corporate profit.
We learned the assistant secretary for the environment at DEQ under the McCrory administration, Tom Reeder (who is now a paid assistant to Sen. Berger), received an email in 2016 from one of the lead scientists studying our river. It informed him, and others in the McCrory administration, of the contamination to the river. There was no response.
And, now, instead of taking the immediate step to approve the emergency funding request (at .001 percent of the budget), some members of the current commission had the audacity to instead send a series of inconsequential questions to Gov. Cooper. You do realize this has been going on for 37 years, right? And you’re gaming to lay blame on the newly appointed governor? It is clear you are playing politics with our health, and that sickens me.
The letter submitted by Sens. Cook, Gunn, Lee, Rabon, Sanderson, Wade, and Wells even includes a question for DHHS about the health standard change, asking for scientific explanation for the change. Does that mean none of them read the scientific explanation that was submitted by DHHS when they made the change? Moreover, the very fact the original number was not accurate should validate that DHHS needs more funding.
That said, we should not allow any of these contaminants in our river, at any level. It should up to Chemours to stop producing the compound—and all other unregulated compounds generated at their plant—until:
• Our regulatory agencies and scientists have the funding and time to properly assess the health effects of these compounds.
• Our legislative bodies have time to update the laws to give the state more power to regulate and monitor industries that pose a threat to our environment and public health.
I request the commission immediately submit endorsement of the emergency funding requested by DEQ and DHHS. I request the commission immediately begin either amending or creating legislation to ensure public health and the environment are given priority over political and corporate profit.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these comments.