Who are DENR’s “customers”?

In case you missed it, a 25-year employee of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) tendered her resignation recently in a very public fashion. As reported by WRAL.com, Susan Wilson packaged her resignation in a scathing and courageous letter that blasted DENR Secretary John Skvarla and the McCrory administration for dismantling of the Department’s Division of Water Quality. Among other things, the letter included the following barbs:

“I was a good regulator – I had a bit of distrust for both sides of the aisle – which made me regulate evenly and with common sense and fair judgment. Over the past 24 years I’ve had the privilege to have worked with some of the most intelligent, articulate, and respected environmental scientists and engineers – I’d put them up against my friends in the private sector any day of the week. But the disdain for them (and me) by this administration is too much to bear….

I’m all about customer service (as the majority of employees in DWQ are, and have always been), but that just seems to be a smokescreen for a very extremist republican agenda.

Likely there will be some uptick in the business environment in the next few years (mainly because the economy has started to recover from the disaster your friends on Wall Street created). But when the hot summers and the drought years come back, and we get fish kills again, and maybe there’s fracking going on in the sandhills – it will be the fine folks at DENR who will get blamed for the chaos. The politicians and their appointees, that did the dismantling and created the chaos, will be long gone. We know the drill.”

Good for Wilson. And good for her reference to “customer service’ — a phrase that’s bandied about at every opportunity by the administration, but that’s never adequately defined.

The clear upshot of Wilson’s letter and numerous rumblings from inside and outside of DENR in recent months is that, in the McCrory/Skvarla lexicon, the term “customers” refers to the industries regulated by the agency — i.e. polluters. But, of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

To the extent we use the phrase “customers” when it comes to the provision of essential public services (and as we explained a few months back, this is generally a problematic idea) the true “customers” are the citizens of this state, i.e. the people who are to be protected from environmental degradation — not the corporations responsible for degradation.

Sure, as Wilson made clear, there’s no reason to be bureaucratic just to be bureaucratic. And there’s probably good reason that some businesses have been frustrated down through the years with some DENR employees. But to utterly dismantle essential environmental protection programs as the McCrory/Skvarla team is doing rather than simply addressing the specific problem employees is a grave disservice to the state.

Add to this the absurd decision to transform a hundred career employees into political hires — thus forcing them to look over their shoulders and consider the political connections of the companies they are trying to regulate every single time they review an application to install a discharge pipe — and it become crystal clear what’s going on.

The bottom line: North Carolina’s already fragile environment is about to get a lot more fragile and North Carolinians will be able to thank Gov. McCrory and Secretary Skvarla for making it happen.     




  1. LayintheSmakDown

    September 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

    The true “customers” should also include all taxpayers in the state. The businesses that have to live by the rules also have to pay taxes. They should get excellent treatment that takes into account the cost benefits of regulations, and have their interactions with government be as smooth as possible.

    And if anything, the pendulum needs to be turned on these oppressive environmental regulations. It is a good thing to weed out the needless items and focus on what can be enforced effectively with the best impact.

  2. Bendal

    September 5, 2013 at 10:53 am

    First commenter, I work in an agency that has lots of dealings with DENR. I’ve never seen an “oppressive environmental regulation”; all of them have valid, fact-based reasons for existing. The sad truth is way too many industries and developers see environmental regulations as needless paperwork designed to cost them money, and they don’t care if that wetland gets drained or that watershed is polluted or that trout stream is destroyed, it doesn’t make them money so why should they be worried about it? Now they’ve got conservatives gutting the regulations for them, so I guess we’ll see what the outcome is; too bad it will be our children who’ll have to live with consequences.

  3. Alan

    September 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Yet another reflexive defense of the McCrory administration from LSD. The hypocrisy of this post is unbelievable, only the other day LSD was defending corporations that don’t pay a dime in taxes, yet now talks of “The businesses that have to live by the rules also have to pay taxes”. Up is down, down is up in GOP land, again.

    “Oppressive environmental regulations”, oppressive to who exactly? GOP donor base? Special interest groups that fund the GOP? Hardly in the interests of the average taxpayer…

    LSD clearly has a full time job posting here…

  4. Mark

    September 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I, too, have dealings with DENR being an Environmental Health and Safety Officer at the lab. While it’s no fun dealing with regulations, I understand their reasons for existence. It’s there to make sure you’re treating the environment around you (and therefore the people) well by not dumping hazardous waste into the ground and city water. I really appreciate them making sure we’re following the necessary regulations.

    I’m also pretty disturbed by the owner of the place I work in thinking not necessarily of the environment, but ways to get around paying for safety while drinking the water himself.

    Phil Orozco is our DENR inspector and he’s a pretty nice guy. It’s really weird when these people get demonized all the time.

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