Does everyone recall the infamous "Environmental Quality" hazardous waste fire in Apex (NC) last fall? Over 10,000 residents were evacuated, and for days no one knew precisely to what chemicals or health hazards they and their community were being exposed.
That disaster pointed out the gaping holes which remain in North Carolina's hazardous waste regulatory setup. As a direct result, Governor Easley appointed a task force to study ways to prevent or reduce the severity of such incidents in the future. In December, they reported a strong set of proposals to fill the gaps in our state's laws.
Last night, I moved—and my colleagues on the Winston-Salem City Council unanimously agreed—to endorse those recommendations. We're calling on our General Assembly to adopt legislation to prevent future debacles like the one suffered by Apex.
Some of the key recommendations of that panel are the following:
· Require financial assurances (e.g., bonding) by the owners of hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, to pay for off-site cleanup costs and off-site monitoring of any waste releases from their facilities.
· Require secure off-site storage of duplicate current records regarding all hazardous materials held on-site—so that this critical information will be immediately available to emergency responders in the event of a fire or other disaster.
· Require that such facilities maintain 24/7 site security through properly trained personnel or adequate electronic security.
· Require meaningful notice to and involvement by local governments and site neighbors in the review of applications for new facilities.
· Develop regulations to guarantee adequate security for "10-day transfer sites" which currently can temporarily store an unlimited number of containers from multiple waste streams with only minimal regulation.
Legislation (House Bill 36) has been introduced, with 26 sponsors and co-sponsors, to implement the hazardous waste task force's recommendations. I encourage everyone to contact your state legislators in support of this important proposal—because the General Assembly has an unfortunate tendency from time to time to let critical actions on important public health matters die without final action.
I've paid particular attention to issues of hazardous waste since my service as a member of the N.C. Emergency Response Commission (1987-92). At that time, we were starting the process of implementing new federal mandates from the Emergency Response and Community Right to Know Act. That important Congressional action followed the Bhopal catastrophe, which involved massive human loss of life and severe injuries resulting from a pesticide manufacturing plant disaster in India.
I was especially involved in helping to set up community right-to-know efforts in our state. Today, we have mechanisms such as the Toxic Release Inventory to help inform the public on chemical hazards in our communities. Of course, the Bush Administration is now in the process of trying to cut back on federally-mandated information access, making our state efforts more critical than ever.
As Lieutenant Governor, I would use the "bully pulpit" of my role as President of the Senate and statewide elected leader to push for effective action on issues like this one.
I believe that my experience and knowledge of environmental laws and enforcement make me especially able to lead efforts like this one effectively. After all, any candidate can "talk green" during an election campaign. The true test is, do you have the experience and commitment to turn that talk into effective action? How have you shown from your work so far that you mean what you say in this arena?
Those are questions that I am happy to discuss during this campaign.
Democrat for Lieutenant Governor