- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Sprawling changes to North Carolina’s environmental regulations were criticized Tuesday by a contingent of activists, lobbyists and attorneys speaking at the first public comment session for the proposed bill.

Several weeks ago, the Senate piled on numerous regulatory changes to what was then a one-page House bill. The bill quickly ballooned to 58 pages of reforms and passed the Senate three days later.

Most of the regulatory changes dealt with environmental issues, such as storm water runoff, recycling of electronics and the idling of large trucks. But the bill also went as far as altering rules on the construction of pipes and septic tanks, and included a proposal to allow children as young as 6 to ride ATVs.

Following a House committee vote to reject the Senate changes, the two chambers are expected to form a conference committee to work out compromise legislation before the end of the summer session.

Rep. Patricia McElraft, R-Carteret, the original sponsor of the one-page House bill, said she gave permission to Senate lawmakers to transform her bill dealing with the transportation of gravel into an omnibus regulatory package.

“I should have thought about that, because I have to defend the bill now,” McElraft joked to reporters after the hearing.

The changes were so vast, typical opponents such as industry lobbyists and environmental activists all found something to object to.

More than 30 people spoke at the hearing, including engineers who argued against plastic manufacturers, a shellfish farmer who said runoff from inland development affected his harvest and a retired state Supreme Court justice who blasted a proposal for the state to collect attorney’s fees in cases of environmental permits.

Asked what changes her House colleagues had concerns over, McElraft said lawmakers had heard lots of questions from county officials about funding cuts to the state’s electronic recycling program. While the bill would cut that funding, local governments would still be required to properly dispose of computers and TVs.

The Senate sponsor for a provision to lower the minimum age for ATV riders from 8 to 6 said last week the new rule will likely be scrapped in favor of a plan aligning most of the state’s ATV regulations with standards supported by the industry.

But it will be up to Senate and House members of the conference committee to decide how far they will go with a compromise bill they only have a few weeks to write.

A massive conference committee is already at work on an overdue budget deal and possible Medicaid reforms. In order to meet a self-imposed Aug. 14 deadline, legislative leaders are hoping to close out policy committees by the end of this week, and the calendar is full of bills.

McElraft said it is likely lawmakers will run past their August deadline, leaving more time to pass a compromise bill on environmental regulations.

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