GenX and North Carolina: Power to the States ⋆ American Lens

GenX and North Carolina: Power to the States

Recently, a swarm of media attention has been raised about the dumping of chemical, GenX, into the Cape Fear river near Wilmington in Eastern North Carolina. This has spurred a call from Gov. Roy Cooper for increased regulation from the EPA on what types and how much of certain chemicals can be spilled as waste into rivers in the state.

DuPont owned company, Chemours, manufactures chemicals at a plant upstream from the city of Wilmington and has been dumping GenX into the Cape Fear river since the 1980s. Currently the EPA has no restrictions on the amount of GenX in drinking water.

While the long-term health effects of GenX on humans is unknown, DuPont did submit studies to the EPA between 2006 and 2013 showing that GenX caused tumors and reproductive problems in lab animals. Yet, the EPA took no action and none of the actions by Chemours disposal of the chemical into the Cape Fear river were illegal since the GenX is classified by another EPA rule as a by-product of another chemical.

Gov. Roy Cooper

“Now here in North Carolina when the GenX flow stopped, I know many remained concerned about other unregulated and emerging compounds that may be flowing through the water,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “I’m concerned too as are people all over the country. This is a state and national issue that we must address.”

While the dumping of potentially hazardous chemicals into a state’s water supply is indeed a dangerous method of removing waste, Gov. Cooper’s call for the EPA to step in with higher restrictions is simply a call for more big government involvement in state policy. Instead of looking to big government to solve local problems, it’s time we gave power back to the states for making sure that its citizens are protected.

It is important to note that Chemours was following current EPA standards and was not in violation of any current restriction on waste disposal. Existing regulations allowed for this type of dumping and the EPA has shown they are prone to making mistakes in the past. There is little evidence to suggest that another policy will actually protect citizens where highly specialized decisions are necessary to keep people safe.

One of the biggest reasons we should trust local authorities and policies rather than looking to blanket national standards is that local governments have more specialized knowledge about scenarios that directly impact constituents in at risk regions.

A good example of EPA meddling and blundering is the case of the opening the Gold King Mine in Nevada. The mine had for years been shut down and any water flowing from the mine was being contained in a holding area.

The EPA felt that this wasn’t a sufficient monitoring of and disposal of waste water. EPA officials began an operation to open the mine and in the process released nearly 1 million gallons of hazardous “metals pollution” water into the Animas River increasing pollution in the region astronomically.

Further, in the specific case of GenX, the EPA has proven that they are unable to deal or enact policy sufficiently with data from studies even when they are presented with potentially harmful results. The nature of federal bureaucracy always tends toward more red tape and inefficiency. The EPA has shown this type of negligence numerous times.

None of this is to say that all environmental restrictions should be removed from all businesses in terms of how they interact with the environment near suburban and urban centers. What is important is to shift the focus from the national to the state level.

Local officials know more directly how they will be impacted by a certain change in the environment. An independent commission in the case of GenX already showed that there could be harmful effects to spilling the chemical into the Cape Fear river.

A large national bureaucracy will always be handicapped from delivering the most specialized solution to the smallest set of the population because of an inability to accurately tailor policy to the local level.

Governor Cooper’s knee jerk reaction to ask for more federal government involvement in his state’s affairs reflects a misunderstanding of how local politics should function. More federal regulation will not always produce the desired result.

The people of North Carolina need to be confident that they have clean drinking water but they should be the ones to decide what those policies will look like. Since the EPA was already aware of the DuPont study since 2013 what proof do North Carolinians have that they will accurately be able to measure and implement strong enough restrictions to keep the water supplies safe?

Formation of an independent public/private commission beholden to the citizens of the specific region where this type of waste disposal is commonplace is simply one possible solution that vests more power with the people rather than a bureaucratic entity. When faced with a crisis let’s ask what we can do at a local level to avert the harms rather than asking big government to solve a problem which may lead to even more disastrous results.

Read more articles by John Bianchi at American Lens.

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John Bianchi

John Bianchi is a marketing professional and the Chapter Leader for America's Future Foundation in Raleigh. You can keep up to date with his articles on Medium

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