RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A provision in a bill that could have helped North Carolina polluters avoid government penalties has been limited by the Senate.

The provision contained in an annual regulatory overhaul measure would allow the state to waive civil penalties or fines when companies self-report environmental violations. The measure would also allow the state to seek a voluntary audit on how the companies are complying with the law. The audits would be kept confidential.

The Senate approved an amendment late last week to limit a company's use of privilege or immunity to once every two years, twice in five years or three times in 10 years. The full bill now heads to the House.

Environmental groups worry the provision means industries can avoid public scrutiny. Supporters say it will encourage proactive cleanups.

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