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Cook on cleanup duty

State Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and two other legislators are primary sponsors of a bill Cook says would accelerate the cleanup of industrial properties statewide.

The proposed legislation is the first to list Cook as a primary sponsor.

The other two primary sponsors are Rep. Pryor Gibson, D-Anson, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell.

The bill has five co-sponsors in the House. It is mirrored by a bill in the Senate.

Cook is a freshman lawmaker who was elected Nov. 2, 2010. He represents Beaufort County and northeast Pitt County.

Cook said the measure in question — House Bill 45 — appears to have bipartisan support.

At last report, the bill had been referred to the House Committee on Environment, and Cook said its merits could be debated by the full House in the next couple of weeks.

Similar bills have failed to be passed by previous incarnations of the Legislature, he said.

According to Cook, the bill would lower certain state standards for the cleanup of industrial sites, allowing remediation to proceed more rapidly than before.

“I think it’s very important that we have a clean environment,” he said. “The way the environmental-protection laws are in the state right now, though, there are situations where cleaning the grounds where some toxic substance has been spilled to the extent a child could eat the dirt and survive — we don’t need to clean it to that standard for certain situations.”

As an example, Cook pointed to a hypothetical, working industrial site whose owners might want to expand their business.

“We don’t need to clean it to the extent that a child could eat the dirt,” he said. “We need to clean it, yes, but to a lesser degree.”

Cook said there are “hundreds of sites that haven’t even been touched” because of existing standards.

“The reason it hasn’t been touched is because it costs a fortune to clean them up,” Cook continued. “But if you lessen the standards a little bit — not a lot, but a little bit — you can get them cleaned up. And that is a good thing because now you’ve got these sites being cleaned up to a large extent, and you’ve now opened them up for use by business. And of course business increases means job increases.”

Jerry Eatman, president of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said the nonprofit environmental group hadn’t taken a position on the bill as of Friday afternoon.

“I think it’s too early,” Eatman said. “Things are happening very quickly down at the Legislature.”

Eatman said he received information on the bill Friday, and he would be willing to offer detailed comments next week after he had time to bone up on the contents.

As it reads, in part, the bill notes the N.C. General Assembly “intends that the protections afforded to public health, safety and welfare and to the environment by existing environmental, health, and safety standards that apply to ongoing activities (will) not be diminished in any way.”

Calls seeking further explanation of the bill from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources were not immediately returned, but a staff member said she was working to track down a source who could describe the bill’s specific directives in layman’s terms.