Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend

seven-springsIf you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out Ned Barnett’s on-the-money essay (“State inaction magnified Hurricane Matthew’s impact”) on North Carolina’s response to (and lack of preparation for) Hurricane Matthew. As Barnett makes clear, no amount of “rainy day funds” or politically motivated camera hogging can make up for the simple fact that the state has under-invested in infrastructure for years — precisely the kind of infrastructure that would have helped prevent some of the worst impacts of the storm. Here’s Barnett:

That shortfall was exposed by Hurricane Matthew’s flooding of eastern North Carolina. The state’s neglect of infrastructure and regulation exacerbated the disaster and will increase the cost of recovery. Despite the lessons taught in 1999 by the flooding of Hurricane Floyd, this governor and legislature are not committed to the funding and regulations needed to control flood waters and protect water quality from flood-related pollution….

Robin Smith, a Chapel Hill lawyer and environmental consultant who served for 12 years as assistant secretary for environment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality), said the state has made “significant cuts in water quality programs” even as the risk of pollution and flooding has increased.

“Clearly, one of the causes of increased flooding is increased development,” she said.

When the floods come in the east, the environmental damage is compounded by an unfortunate concentration of industrial farms and plants that raise and process hogs and poultry. Fourteen hog waste lagoons were flooded during Hurricane Matthew, according the NC Pork Council. The storm killed nearly 3,000 hogs and 2 million chickens and turkeys….

Frank Holleman, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center who has pushed to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, said industrial waste shouldn’t be exposed to flooding. “You shouldn’t be storing any kind of dangerous waste in a flood plain. The whole idea of storing waste is to contain it, not have it wash away into our rivers,” he said.

And now, in case you missed the memo, the McCrory’s administration’s budget office is calling for another round of across-the-board spending cuts in 2017-18. As, you may recall, NC Policy Watch reporter Billy Ball reported a couple of weeks back that the administration is calling for $173 million in cuts to public education, but similar cuts are being demanded of all other agencies too. This includes the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency that houses things like water quality protection and even dam safety.

In other words, the seemingly hyperactive response from the administration to the hurricane in recent weeks has been more for show than anything else. When it came to the critical investments that could have prevented some of the damage and made recovery less onerous, state leaders were MIA. What’s more their, plan at this point is to double down on those cuts in the years to come in order to keep paying for their regressive tax cuts.

In other words, when the next hurricane hits eastern North Carolina, residents will get a shoulder to cry on afterwards, but little, if anything, to help prevent the devastation.

Click here to read Barnett’s entire column.

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