RALEIGH - Several North Carolina legislators want more information quickly from Gov. Roy Cooper to justify his request for $2.6 million to respond to releases of a little-studied chemical into a river and future water safety issues.
The Republican senators also demanded in a letter to Cooper this week that he answer questions by Monday about what and when his administration knew about The Chemours Co.'s discharges of chemical GenX. State officials said the chemical company recently stopped the discharges from its Bladen County plant at Cooper's request.
Some of the senators' 21 questions involve state and federal investigations of the releases into the Cape Fear River, the main drinking water source for about 200,000 people in and around Wilmington.
At least one Wilmington-area lawmaker who signed the letter is skeptical about Cooper's monetary request before the General Assembly returns to Raleigh later this month. The Cooper administration asks for 16 new staff members in the state Division of Water Resources, seeks to create a new "water health and safety unit" within the Department of Health and Human Services and wants annual funding to continue tests for GenX.
"The governor's proposal does absolutely nothing to ensure GenX is removed from our water source. There are absolutely no action steps laid out in his request to help New Hanover County residents," state Sen. Michael Lee told the StarNews of Wilmington.
State officials say Chemours is now paying for the testing performed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and private laboratories. The senators want to know how additional funding will help if Chemours has stopped discharging GenX into the river.
"We are hopeful that you intend to target resources to make a difference rather than simply improve public relations," Wednesday's letter read.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the administration is eager to explain its needs, but legislators canceled a recent briefing with top officials from the departments of Health and Human Services and Environmental Quality. Seventy positions at the environmental agency that once supported permitting, compliance and enforcement programs have been eliminated since 2013.
"After years of cuts to these agencies, this issue requires immediate action so people can have confidence in their drinking water going forward," Porter told WRAL-TV. "We will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats on this matter."
GenX has been used since 2009 to make Teflon and other non-stick products. There are no federal health standards and the Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as an "emerging contaminant" to be studied.
Cooper, who took office in January, said last month he would ask the State Bureau of Investigation to determine whether the plant violated any permits with the discharges.
The Department of Environmental Quality also recently received a federal subpoena from U.S. attorneys seeking records about GenX as part of a grand jury meeting in Wilmington.
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