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House fails to pass $12 million in grants for Canton paper mill

fr evergreenA bill that would provide a $12 million incentive package to the Evergreen Packaging paper mill in Canton failed to garner enough votes from the state House.

“I did my best — that’s all I can say,” said Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Haywood, on Tuesday afternoon. 

Presnell sponsored the bill. 

“I’m disappointed, very disappointed, she said.”

Known as House Bill 1224, the bill would have provided funds to help pay for new natural gas fired boilers at the paper mill. The need for the new boilers came from stricter industrial air pollution limits imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that go into effect in 2016.

Evergreen estimated it would cost upwards of $50 million to convert the current coal-fired boilers to natural gas. Although an enormous economic driver in Western North Carolina, the company is also labeled as the largest industrial air polluter in the region, and one of the highest in the state, according to federal emission reporting.

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“House Bill 1224 was very simple when it was introduced in May. It was for Evergreen and its more than 1,000 well-paying jobs in my district,” Presnell said in an email release. “This bill failed in the House today (Friday, Aug. 15) with 47 voting in favor and 54 against.”

Originally sponsored by state Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, the bill was brought to the floor as “Senate Bill 3.” Passed unanimously in the Senate, it was then brought to the North Carolina House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by Presnell.

“But the bill that the Senate sent back over [to us] was not the bill we started with,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood. “It became so loaded down with unpopular motions that didn’t make sense and we couldn’t get a majority.”

According to Queen, the bill sent back by the Senate also included a measure that would have kept in place the current system of funding for teacher assistants next year, an issue that has been hotly contested in the legislature this year. The bill also included $20 million in economic development incentives for the state Commerce Department to attract industry.

“The portion [of the bill] that I was for was the infrastructure improvements [for the paper mill], which was sponsored in the Senate bill by Davis,” Queen said. “… Presnell tried to hijack Davis’ bill and take credit for it, and in the process lost complete control of the bill.”

 “Yes, it was amended by the Senate, from a two-page bill, to 14, to 20, and now to a 33-page bill. Some amendments added by the Senate were not going to affect my district,” Presnell wrote in her email. “We have our Commerce Secretary, Sharon Decker, who needed some of these amendments and now has very few tools in her toolbox to bring large manufacturing businesses to the mountains or, for that matter, anywhere in the state. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia are all very happy right now because these businesses will go to their states due to their incentives. We only have a small amount in North Carolina.”

“There were too many hands in the cookie jar,” Queen said. “[House Speaker Thom] Tillis couldn’t deliver, McCrory couldn’t deliver, Presnell couldn’t deliver, and Queen couldn’t deliver.”

Both Presnell and Queen did note there was a possibility of the bill coming back to be voted on.

“[Gov. Pat McCrory] can bring us back anytime and do a new majority consensus on the bill,” Queen said. “We could deliver a unanimous vote on the bill if the governor brought it back.”

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