Constituents offer wide range of views on state regs

Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight asked for an extension on a state-mandated deadline to clean up the Haw River.

Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight was first in line to speak to members of the NC General Assembly’s Joint Regulatory Reform Committee during a hearing at GTCC in Jamestown on Monday.

“This is a meeting to meet you face to face and hear your concerns about the regulations that we in Raleigh put in place and think we’re doing a good thing,” said Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Wake County Republican who co-chairs the committee. “And most of the time we do, but unfortunately there are unintended consequences from rules that we put in place because we’re not forward thinking enough, or because we may not understand the issue to the degree that you do with it on the ground.”

A host of industry representatives and business people predictably streamed before the committee members asking for more regulatory leniency on their respective enterprises, but the surprise may have been the number of people who spoke out in favor of maintaining regulations, with a particular emphasis on the five-star daycare rating system and certification of childcare workers, increased energy efficiency requirements for the homebuilding industry and clean water enforcement.

“We are asking that these rules be extended by four years, to 2020, for compliance deadlines for wastewater discharge rule, for the adaptive management rule, which is also known as an existing development rule, and the new development rule,” said Knight referring to the Jordan Lake Rules, which requires local governments in the Haw River watershed, including Greensboro, and developers to reduce runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous.

Knight received some support from Jim Phillips, who is employed with design firm Anderson & Associates and who spoke on behalf of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition.

“Many of the municipalities are challenged to find funding just to implement the rules,” Phillips said. “Developers also are hard pressed, particularly with the devaluation of property values. Pollution is not occurring at the rate it would have been projected and delay of implementation of the rules would certainly be of help to all involved.”

Haw Riverkeeper Elaine Chiosso spoke out against delaying implementation.

“Dirty water that ends up in the Jordan Lake gets there through dirty creeks,” she said, “and those include dirty creeks in Greensboro.”

Bill Sherrill, owner of Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett, asked the General Assembly to remove limitations on production and distribution of his product.

“I’m asking that the legislature do away with the artificial limitation on how much beer a small brewery can sell, produce and distribute,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years. Our product is a fresh product. It has no chemicals, no preservatives. It’s not filtered. It’s not pasteurized.”

Sherrill waved a site plan at the lawmakers, and told them that lifting the cap would allow him to create jobs and economic development in eastern Guilford County.

“If we can grow, we will create this village here,” he said. “We have all 12 acres, which will have an art museum, a beer hall, shops like the Homeland Creamery. We’re gonna put a deli there. We’ll have a motel and have a small restaurant. We’ll create over 200 jobs. Everyone says it’s small business that creates jobs. But when you come to the legislature and you don’t have the money that a lot of big businesses have you’re always at a disadvantage. I ask you all that you please allow us to grow. We don’t want money from the state; all we want to do is compete.”

Jeff Hyde, a cofounder of Conservatives for Guilford County, spoke out in support of Sherrill’s request, telling the Republican lawmakers on the committee that the Republican Party has a proud tradition of opposing “crony capitalism.”

“They are ready to grow,” Hyde said. “They are ready to create private-sector jobs with their own financing and their own vision. They don’t need any government stimulus. All they need is the opportunity that lifting the artificial cap on the production and distribution of their product would provide.”

At least eight people spoke out in support of state regulations designed to maintain clean water.

“One of my concerns… is finding out the amount of pollution in the Yadkin River — the lack of enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” said John Young, who owned a furniture store in High Point before retiring. “And as somebody who paid a lot of taxes in this state over many years I’m one that expected the Clean Water Act to be enforced by [the Department of Environment and Natural Resources] and the EPA. And I’ve come to realize today that there is a real lack of enforcement. So I’m here today to say that DENR doesn’t need less funds; they need more funds for protecting our water, protecting our environment and helping our state parks system.”

Ann Cassebaum of Alamance County said environmental regulation has protected the Haw River and led to the economic rebirth of the Haw River valley, including restored fish populations and revitalization of small towns such as Glen Cove and Saxapahaw.

Lance Sawyer, owner of First Street Draught House in Winston-Salem, argued that enforcement of clean water standards supports the small-scale beer, wine and food industries, while another speaker said preserving the state’s natural beauty is critical to continuing to attract retirees.

“The brewing industry, vineyards and slow food industry in North Carolina are growing by leaps and bounds,” Sawyer said.

“Do we want Colorado to have better beer than us?” he asked, drawing laughter from the audience and smiles from the lawmakers. “I don’t think so.”

At least four people said they were in favor of a five-star daycare rating the state has adopted, and some added that certification requirements for childcare workers have improved industry standards and helped daycare services flourish.

“As we expect teachers to excel, they do,” said Karen Lassiter, who owns three childcare centers in Guilford and Randolph counties. “And as we expect early childhood education teachers to excel, they do. And that is linked to better outcomes for our children.”

A handful of people said they support new requirements for homebuilders to meet new standards of energy efficiency that are scheduled to go into effect next year.

“In a nutshell this code is going to ask builders to reduce the leakage and improve insulation — and improve the way insulation is installed in new homes,” said Sam Zimmerman, a small residential builder. “I know it’s dry stuff. But it really does impact all of us, including the quality of homes built and how much homeowners pay after they buy a home.

“You look at most Habitat homes — particularly built in western North Carolina where I’m from, where it’s cold — they are all built to exceed these standards already today,” he added. “And that is not expensive or hard to do: They’ve got housewives and cheerleaders, anybody they can get up doing it.”

Zimmerman charged that large-tract builders want to avoid the regulation so they can squeeze out an extra thousand dollars or so in costs, but as a result homeowners are strapped with high energy bills for years to come. Another negative repercussion of building homes that heat inefficiently is pressure on energy companies to build additional power plants.

“All we have to do is build better homes,” Zimmerman said. “They cost a little bit more to build.”

Erik Anderson, president-elect of the NC Homebuilders Association, asked the lawmakers for more regulation — on his industry’s competitors.

“In the state of North Carolina, if you sign a contract for greater than $30,000, you have to have a general contractor’s license,” he said. There’s a lot of work done throughout the state of North Carolina by unlicensed contractors. One of the big issues is there’s something out there called the owners exemption, which means any person can build their own home without having a general contractors license. We’re not opposed to not allowing people to build their own home. What we would simply ask is that if we’re going to allow a homeowner to build their own home they should have the same training and pass the same tests and follow the same rules and regulations that we have to follow.”

Lolita Malave, president-elect of the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association, asked the General Assembly to repeal the protest petition, which allows neighboring property owners to trigger a requirement of a 75 percent majority vote for approval of a rezoning request if they file a valid protest petition.

“It is easier to change the US Constitution that it is to rezone your property under the protest petition,” Malave said. “The US Constitution can be changed with a simple-majority vote of the people or a two-thirds majority vote of Congress. By contrast, the owner of 5 percent of the land within 100 feet of a proposed land rezoning project can trigger a requirement for more than a super-majority vote. That equates to more than 75 percent of voters. It is absurd and unfair that such a small number of citizens can and do decide the fate of many.”

One speaker echoed Malave’s appeal, while another spoke in defense of the protest petition.

Five people asked lawmakers to curb requirements that hazardous waste companies maintain sufficient funds to pay for closure.

Other advocates for deregulation included

• A farmer who is concerned that E-verify program could reject an employee because of a name change due to a marriage, who argued that the H2A guest worker program prevents her family from hiring American teenagers at low wages because of a requirement that farmers only hire foreign workers if they cannot find people willing to work for $9.30 an hour, and who urged that funding for Legal Aid be cut because the agencies lawyers assist migrant workers with complaints against their employers;

• Fred Gregory, who asked lawmakers to scrap a requirement for annual car inspections, characterizing the regulation as a pact between radical environmentalists and auto repair shops;

• Steve Williams of Wilco-Hess in Winston-Salem, who complained about regulations on fuel storage
• Eliminate “redundant” regulations of public-sector More at Four program;

• A Duke Energy representative who called for the elimination of regulations on particulate matter emissions by power plants;

• Linda Harris of Townsend poultry, who asked lawmakers to lift a cap on weight restrictions for transporting animals to slaughterhouses;

• A duct tape manufacturer in Hickory, who spoke in favor of a moratorium on new regulations; and

• Ruth Foster, who called on the General Assembly to lift restrictions on raw milk.

Other speakers spoke out in favor of maintaining current regulations, including public health inspection of restaurants and a state prohibition against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process of natural gas recovery that involves fracturing rocks.

“Through childcare regulations, our children are in safer environments,” said Dr. Teresa Bratton, a Greensboro pediatrician. “Through housing regulations we rarely see lead toxicity in our children. Due to power plant regulations we are limiting the amount of mercury that reaches our fish, and therefore we have a safer high-protein carp for our pregnant women with children. Due to car emissions inspections and due to school bus emissions inspections regulations we have more low-ozone days that our children can play outside.

“Please do not compromise our safety and health for a few pennies,” she added. “We will save more dollars in healthcare over the long run.”

Rep. Marilyn Avila and fellow committee members solicited ideas for rolling back government regulations during a hearing in Jamestown on Monday.

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