House Bill 374 - Business Freedom Act

Energy & Environment

This bill creates hurdles for citizens to sue corporations for pollution while loosening restrictions on landfills, wastewater systems, and coal ash cleanup requirements for Duke Energy

Read the full bill text on the NCGA website

Quick overview:

This bill has a number of provisions that likely endanger water quality and will create hurdles for citizens to sue corporations for pollution.

When it passed the House unanimously, H374 was a non-contentious bill that made technical and conforming changes to labor laws. As introduced in Senate Commerce committee, however, the bill is a wide ranging regulatory reform bill.

Critics are concerned about the following sections:

Section 3: Landfill operations less transparent, potentially endangering health

Landfills, by definition, contain quite a bit of waste, and therefore need close monitoring to ensure that the viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, and other waste do not end up outside of the landfill. This bill would:

  • Make it more difficult for environmental agencies to identify noncompliance or changed conditions at landfills throughout the state.
  • Make it easier for ten-year permits to become what is known ”life-of-site” permits, which means that noncompliant or questionable landfills could continue to operate for many years.
  • Allow landfills to go over the head of local government approval or the franchisee agreement with the locality, removing requirement for oversight or fees.

Section 4: Gives Duke Energy some potential off-ramps for fully cleaning up the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill

In February 2014, Duke Energy spilled almost 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, a river used for fishing, agriculture, and drinking on the Virginia/North Carolina border. Coal ash is the waste product of burned coal, and contains heavy metals and other contaminants harmful to health. Duke Energy is responsible for the costs of cleanup of this spill, but this bill could let Duke Energy find their way out of this responsibility.

  • The bill eliminates Coal Ash Recycling Program if the program is not profitable for Duke Energy
  • Gives Duke Energy more time to study demand of recycled coal ash for use in concrete in North Carolina, however critics say that the concrete industry and other studies have already shown a high demand for more coal ash for concrete
  • Conducting more studies for Duke Energy would let them avoid building another coal ash recycling facility
  • This elimination would potentially leave coal ash in the Dan River

Section 8: Wastewater System Permit Extensions hook up old and obsolete septic systems to new buildings, meaning they could leak human waste into rivers, streams and drinking water

Owners of construction projects that might have gone under or stalled after the 2007 recession can use their decade-old permits in new construction permits:

  • New permits are needed for decade old septic systems to ensure there are no spills
  • New permits are need to ensure that the septic systems are not near new drinking wells
  • The operators should be able to recycle their old septic systems if it won’t have an impact on drinking water, but they should acquire a new permit to ensure safety and avoid spilling human waste.

Section 11: Stormwater runoff from airports allowed without any mitigation, meaning more heavy metals and chemicals in rivers, streams and drinking water

Airports have a substantial amounts of paved surface while also having high amounts of exhaust from planes. The result being when it rains on airport runways, heavy metals and chemicals from plane exhaust ends up on the tarmac and then running off into nearby ditches, rivers and streams. This bill:

  • Takes away local government authority to require stormwater ponds near airports to contain contaminated runoff
  • Increases river and stream pollution

Section 12: Difficult for citizens to sue corporations or entities that are responsible for pollution

Operations that pollute the air or water often require permits, and these permits come with a public comment period. This bill makes it easier for polluters to avoid responsibility by using this comment period in the following ways:

  • If you did not comment during the permitting process but are then in a position where a company or corporation is damaging your health or your home, you cannot sue the company or corporation
  • If you did comment during the public comment period and choose to sue a corporation or company for damages, the judge can only consider materials that you submitted during the public comment period.
  • It is likely that you would need to present proof of damages after the comment period. This would not be allowed to be considered by the judge in your case.