Bill puts Lee County air monitor at risk

May. 25, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Proposed legislation with the potential to shut down Lee County's baseline ambient air quality monitor passed its second reading in the North Carolina Senate on Thursday in a vote of 37-31.

S734, also known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014, calls for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to review the state's air monitoring network and request the removal of any monitor not required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Lee County monitor is used to measure baseline air quality levels in case any natural gas exploration occurs in the area," said DENR Public Information Officer Tom Mather. "There is no federal criteria that would require a monitor there, so that monitor would be at risk."

According to Sanford Mayor Chet Mann, it is important to study every aspect of what the bill would do before removing Lee County's air monitor.

"I am an advocate for good environmental practices," Mann said. "And I think we need to be careful before we make moves that could jeopordize our quality of life here. I'm always going to be hesitant to move too fast. I think there is a whole lot more work that needs to be done before we drop environmental restrictions."

Dawn Harris Young, public affairs specialist for the EPA, said the agency follows the Clean Air Act, which requires states to set up air monitoring networks for certain pollutants across the state, in determining which monitors are required.

The Lee County monitor, located on Blackstone Road, is a special-purpose monitor, which is used by state and local agencies to fulfill very specific or short-term monitoring goals and is not required by federal law.

Therese Vick, a community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said the bill raises public health, as well as environmental, concerns.

"Bad air sends people to the hospital," she said."There's no question about it. [This bill] is going to seriously affect people who live in communities with polluting industries."

Mather said now, DENR chooses the locations of monitors to protect North Carolina's air quality and to follow trends and make forecasts for cities across the state.

"In providing information in a case like [Lee County's]," Mather said, "we don't have any other monitors near Sanford. We don't have any information from close to that area. The nearest ones are in Fuquay-Varina and Wake County."

June Blotnick, the executive director of Clean Air Carolina, said she is concerned that North Carolina legislators are focused too heavily on deregulation.

"They don't have public health at the top of their priority list," she said. "They are looking at environmental issues in an anti-regulatory way, and it is not in the public interest."

The Senate will hear the third reading of the bill on Wednesday, May 28. If it passes there, it will move on to the House of Representatives.