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This Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly — a self-imposed deadline used by lawmakers to weed out some of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced so far this year. Without going into the details, it’s enough to note that the crossover deadline will make for a busy week of sausage grinding on Jones Street. Lots and lots of bills — many of them destructive and counter-productive — will receive only a few minutes’ consideration before being sent long their merry way.

Two destructive environmental policy bills are near the top of the list as the fun gets underway this afternoon in the House.

At 1:00 p.m., the House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.” Here’s what the good folk at the Sierra Club have to say about this proposal:

“In the late 1990’s after public outcry, about massive fish kills in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, the State developed cost effective and comprehensive strategies to reduce water pollution from all sources.

[The Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] would greatly expand exemptions to North Carolina’s riparian buffer requirements and reduce local control.

Buffers are the most cost effective mechanism that we have to protect water quality in streams and rivers. Since federal and state water quality standards still have to be met, reducing buffers serves only to increase the costs to farmers and local governments.”

A new version of the bill would also allow giant hog farm populations to grow.

Meanwhile, later on this evening, the full House will consider a widely criticized proposal to gut the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). As Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported the other day: Read More

Commentary

Coal ash spillWe humans have a way of ignoring unpleasant facts as long as we can keep them out of sight — especially when paying attention would require us to change (and maybe even sacrifice some small measure of convenience or habit). That’s why the stories in newspapers across the state this morning (Earth Day morning) about Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution and its increasingly destructive impact on our health and well-being are so important. As the Charlotte Observer reports:

“Most of the private wells tested near Duke Energy’s North Carolina coal ash ponds show contaminants above state groundwater standards, state regulators said Tuesday.

Of 117 test results mailed to power plant neighbors in recent days, 87 exceeded groundwater standards, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.”

In other words, there it is once again: concrete evidence that we are, increasingly, burying ourselves in our own effluent and jeopardizing human health and survival prospects in our blind and foolish refusal to quickly and radically alter our use of fossil fuels.

As Joe Romm pointed out on Think Progress  yesterday in a provocative Earth Day critique, this helps highlight one of the problems with the typical environmental protection messaging (including that of the Obama administration’s) on the subject: the message that moves people isn’t the threat to “mother Earth”; it’s the one about the threat to human survival: Read More

Commentary

This morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record has a fine editorial (“Whose property is it, anyway?”) that takes down one of the most pernicious aspects of fracking that was unaddressed by the state’s new law allowing the controversial energy drilling procedure: “forced pooling”:

“Forced pooling began with good intentions. It was meant to limit the number of wells and make sure that landowners weren’t denied payment for oil and gas lying below their property. Unfortunately, the practice can be turned against them.

Natural gas may lie below many properties. Owners can pool their interests to command a good price and limit how many wells are drilled. But, if a few owners won’t go along, they could block some of their neighbors from the pool or force the drilling of additional wells, raising costs. Laws in many states can compel them to join, awarding them a fair share of the proceeds and in some cases assigning them a portion of the costs.”

The editorial explains that Virginia just defeated a bill that would have allowed the practice there and and urges support for legislation by Rep. Bryan Holloway that would ban forced pooling in North Carolina too. One would think that such a measure — which Holloway rightfully defends as being about property rights — would be a no-brainer for conservatives, but it’s funny how sweet-talking by big energy companies has a way of trumping ideology for those on the right.

An informal poll on the N&R website yesterday found that readers opposed forced polling by a ratio of about 15 to 1. We’ll see who state legislators are listening to in the coming weeks: average people and landowners or fat cat energy lobbyists. Stay tuned.

Commentary

There are now two Crucial Conversation luncheons you want to miss on the schedule for April:

#1: “Can this coastline be saved? Offshore drilling and what it will likely mean for North Carolina’s beaches and wetlands. “  The event will feature one of the state’s leading experts on the topic, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Sierra Weaver.

When: Tuesday, April 7, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here to register

#2: “What’s the matter with Kansas (and what can North Carolina do to avoid it)?” This event will feature former Kansas lawmaker and state Budget Director Duane Goosen and Annie McKay, Executive Director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

When: Tuesday, April 21, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Marbles Kids Museum, 201 E. Hargett St. (corner of Hargett and Blount streets) in downtown Raleigh

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.We need an energy system that protects our vital resources and creates sustainable jobs. The good news is that North Carolina has great potential for such a system. The bad news is that the current budget takes us further from that goal, not closer to it.

The ongoing discussions of the 2015-2017 state budget provide a useful context for analyzing the health of our state’s economy. The budget’s treatment of the environment makes clear just how shortsighted the planning for economic development is in this state. Over the last several years, rather than pursue the myriad opportunities to leverage clean technology and innovation to protect our environment and spur job growth, the state budget has ignored the need to protect our state’s most valuable resources.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, cuts to North Carolina’s primary environmental regulatory body have constituted a wholesale assault on our state’s living environment. The scale and pace of cuts to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) represent a structural dismantling of numerous regulatory bodies, diverting systems of revenue generation for the foreseeable future. If continued, these trends could spell disaster for North Carolina’s families. Instead, we should pursue a budgetary structure and job creation scenario that benefit both our economy and the planet by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, remediating current environmental degradation, and repairing existing infrastructure.

Our current reality, however, is far different. In 2009, 30 positions were eliminated from DENR. Over the next two years another 225 jobs were cut, but in Gov. Pat McCrory’s first year of office, while the economy was supposedly in recovery, another 131 positions went to the wayside, with 1,500 additional positions transferred out of the department over that same four-year period.

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