Image: NC Department of Public Safety

Image: NC Department of Public Safety

The murky flood waters haven’t all receded yet in South Carolina (or parts of North Carolina for that matter), but it’s already crystal clear that our state’s shortsighted attitude toward climate change, rising sea levels and investments in infrastructure have been powerfully refuted once more.

The Associated Press reports:

“Long before the historic floods of the past week, crumbling roads, bridges and dams and aging drinking water systems plagued South Carolina — a poor state that didn’t spend much on them in the first place and has been loath to raise taxes for upkeep.

Now the state faces hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of additional bills to fix or replace key pieces of its devastated infrastructure.

As the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters shows, the federal government will cover much of the costs, but isn’t going to pay for all of it.”

In other words, much as we’d like to chalk disasters like the destructive floods of recent days up to “acts of God,” the plain and undeniable fact is that they are actually part of the new normal on our warmer, more populated and increasingly paved-over planet. Moreover, we avoid preparing for them and attempting to preemptively mitigate them at our own great peril and expense.

Tragically, however, this painfully obvious reality continues to escape our state’s political leaders and the “free market think tanks” on whom they rely for policy advice. Indeed, as was explained by the good people at the Sierra Club earlier this week, a so-called “regulatory reform” bill currently awaiting Gov. McCrory’s signature would directly contribute to more of the kind of flooding experienced in the Carolinas in recent days by further limiting protections of the kinds of intermittent streams that help absorb runoff and alleviate flooding.

The bottom line: North Carolina can pay a lot now or vastly more later to address the impacts of our changing planet and growing population. And for the time being, it’s clear that we’ve opted for the latter option.

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

A few of the worst last-minute proposals advanced during last night’s kangaroo sessions of the North Carolina House and Senate failed, mercifully, to win final approval prior to the 4:00 a.m. final adjournment. That said, lawmakers still shipped a bevy of dreadful and destructive bills down the street to the Governor’s Mansion.

One of the most troubling was/is the aptly nicknamed “Polluter Protection Act.” Though some of the bill’s rougher edges were smoothed slightly in the session’s final hours, the proposal still goes to Governor McCrory with its horrific centerpiece intact — a provision that would allow permit-holders who violate environmental limits to be excused from civil penalties for their offenses, if they “self-report” the violations.

Environmental advocates are demanding that the Governor veto this monstrosity. The good people at the Environmental Defense Fund put it this way in a statement this morning:

“The N.C. General Assembly has given final approval to House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. If the legislation becomes law, it will allow more air and water pollution, degrade land, harm wildlife and put public health at risk.

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.”

Meanwhile, Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters was even more succinct when he said the bill could be “the worst environmental bill of Gov. McCrory’s tenure.”

For a summary of the lowlights and the action that environmental advocates are taking to secure a veto click here.

For a thorough list of the bill’s grisly details click here.

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

The biggest scandal right now in the world of industry involves the giant German manufacturer Volkswagen, which has now admitted to installing software in its vehicles to provide false emission tests results. As the New York Times reports this morning, one of the factors that led to this scandal was the regulatory structure that allows car manufacturers to do their own emission tests or to select the companies with which they will contract to perform them.

In other words, with self-policing for environmental pollution you inevitably get…wait for it…cheating. The drive for profits often makes the temptation to cook the books is too great.

This brings us to one of the centerpieces of the so-called “regulatory reform” legislation (aka the “Polluter Protection Act”) that’s currently awaiting final action in the General Assembly as lawmakers move toward adjournment next week. As was explained earlier this week by the good people at the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, the proposed law would enact a regulatory framework that is even weaker than the one that gave rise to the VW scandal. This is from the League’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

“The big environmental fight surely looming over the remainder of this legislative year deals with HB 765, now better known as the Polluter Protection Act.

Why is that? In brief, imagine this: A corporate polluter – one of those occasional bad actors whose irresponsible behavior undercuts the efforts of the more ethical majority of businesses – has been carelessly dumping unpermitted pollution into your local river. It realizes that it is finally about to be caught, either by concerned citizens or one of the overworked remaining state environmental enforcement staff. It quickly runs a ‘self-audit’ and confesses to its regrettable “mistake” of dumping excess pollution into the river feeding the local water supply. Hey, presto! Said corporate polluter gets immunity and is let off the hook from fines and penalties on the basis of its promise to do better from now on.

This isn’t satire; that kind of provision is actually contained in the Polluter Protection Act.

In other words, under the proposed new model for North Carolina, a polluter could be as guilty as Volkswagen and then, upon being discovered, simply self-report its behavior as a “mistake” and avoid any liability.

Of course, for every polluter who finally realizes they’re about to get caught and self-reports, there will undoubtedly be many more who will go their merry way, degrading our environment without any consequences at all. Others, like VW, will get away with murder for many years and never even face the kind of consequences that awaits the giant car maker.

The bottom line: The self-policing provision of the “regulatory reform” bill makes a mockery of our environmental protection laws and citizens will be the ones who will pay the price.



In case you missed it, be sure to check out reporter Bruce Siceloff’s story in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he explores the behind-closed-doors decision of unnamed state lawmakers to deep six the Triangle’s developing plans for a traffic-busting light rail system.

Siceloff quotes one of the legislature’s longest-serving and most influential conservative lawmakers, Rep. Paul Stam on Wake County as professing not to know the origins of the provision.

To which all a body can say in response is “give us a break.” Stam is either remarkably inept at his job or being remarkably dishonest. That something so important to his home county could be inserted without his knowledge or participation simply defies logic.

Speaking of inept, Governor McCrory comes off once again as utterly incompetent in the story — blasting the provision that he himself signed into law.

The bottom line: As is noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, the light rail killer is just the latest in a long line of recent anti-environmental provisions rammed through the General Assembly by conservative legislators and their buddies in the polluter lobby. Perhaps even more importantly, however, it is also a classic example of corrupt, secretive and unaccountable government at its worst.

You’d think a group of ideologues so cocksure of their twisted ideology as the current legislative leadership is would at least have the courage to stand beside their actions.

Sadly and quite pathetically, this is not the case.


North Carolina environmental advocates are having trouble listing all the bad new laws and money decisions crammed into the 400-plus page budget agreement. As the good people at the League of Conservation Voters reported in an update this afternoon, the budget agreement includes provisions:

  • Allowing the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) to expire. For every $1 in tax credit allotted to our renewable energy industry, it has generated $1.54 in new state and local revenue. That means more money is coming into our coffers, creating jobs and drawing in a total economic impact of $4.7 billion. Allowing the REITC to expire will likely damage North Carolina’s ability to attract new businesses and investors, especially for our state’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties that have received more than $1.9 billion in direct investment thanks to REITC.
  • Earmarking $500,000 for shale gas exploration (aka “fracking”). The irony of allowing a “subsidy” for solar to expire but include half a million dollars in handouts to an industry that already has the funds and the competitive advantage shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Regardless, this is a terrible use of state revenue dollars.
  • Creating loopholes for repeat violators and reducing penalties for those who break state sediment and erosion control laws. While we were pleased to see the Sedimentation Control Commission remain intact, this overseeing body won’t be able to actually enforce any of the rules and protect us and our natural resources from pollution with these gaping holes.
  • Extending funding for the botched SolarBee project to the tune of $1.5 million and delaying the implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules for at least three more years. This simply allows the pollution load to grow and grow, making future clean up efforts even more difficult and costly.

The LCV list doesn’t include the decision to expand controversial terminal groins that will liteally change the shape of the state’s coastline or, undoubtedly, numerous other provisions that will only come to light days after the new budget is law.

In other words, the news from Jones Street is bad and getting worse.