Our Opinion: ‘Garbage Juice’ bill suddenly turns sour | N&R Editorials

Gov. Roy Cooper’s most recent vetoes are still standing, some more firmly than others.

But legislators can take their time before striking.

Cooper, a Democrat, rejected six bills after the General Assembly suspended its long session June 30. Legislators have returned to Raleigh twice since then but have yet to override a veto. They could do so as soon as Tuesday or as late as next year.

The “Garbage Juice” bill has garnered the most attention, and it turned sour for Republican legislators this week.

House Bill 576 directs the state Department of Environmental Quality to approve the use of aerosolization, or spraying wastewater from a lined landfill into the air with the idea that solid particles would fall back to the landfill and liquid somehow would dissipate. That supposedly would save operators the cost of treating the wastewater.

Critics tagged this liquid with the unappealing nickname of Garbage Juice, thereby instantly winning a PR victory.

The bill passed mostly along party-line votes in both chambers. All of Guilford County’s House and Senate Republicans, except Rep. John Blust, voted for it. The Democrats voted against. But supporters were numerous enough to override a veto if they hold their positions.

In rejecting the measure, Cooper declared: “Scientists, not the legislature, should decide whether a patented technology can safely dispose of contaminated liquids from landfills.”

He was exactly right. This scheme mimicked the “SolarBees” episode, in which the legislature directed the use of solar-powered water-mixers to break up algae blooms in Jordan Lake, a polluted Triangle reservoir, instead of approving regulations to clean it up. After $1 million was spent, the experiment was halted as a failure.

Aerosolization likely won’t get that far. Just as the House put HB 576 on its calendar for a possible override vote this week, landfill operator Republic Services announced it would not use the method.

“We have concluded that the technique is not a viable alternative for our liquids management in North Carolina,” the company said, according to WRAL of Raleigh. “We have no plans for its future use or application.”

A second company, Charah LLC, also withdrew a permit application.

The House pulled the bill from its calendar Thursday, putting it on Monday’s calendar instead, but it may prefer not to vote on a distasteful measure that seems to be losing support. This bill should be left on the shelf while scientists take time to examine this process to determine its practicality and potential health impacts.

Another bill removed from this week’s calendar is targeted exclusively at Guilford County. It would allow the county to publish legal notices only on its website rather than in newspapers. This would result in lower visibility for these notices, which is one reason that drew the governor’s veto. He also saw it as “meant to specifically threaten and harm the media.” We hope the veto will be sustained.

The House did vote to override two vetoes Thursday. Cooper objected to HB 140, related to dental insurance claims, reimbursements and fees, because it essentially allowed higher-cost loans. The second, HB 770, transfers two appointments to the N.C. Medical Board from the governor to the legislature, which Cooper challenged as yet another effort to usurp executive authority. Both bills are on the Senate’s calendar for Tuesday, and overrides are likely.

The legislature can wait until the very end of its 2018 session to act on vetoed bills. Leaders can delay until they have the votes to secure an override. Republicans already command veto-proof majorities and have swept away all of Cooper’s previous vetoes.

That perfect record is in jeopardy. The legal notices bill originally passed narrowly in the House with bipartisan opposition. The Garbage Juice bill looks to be politically toxic. The legislature should let it stew in its own juices.

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