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DENRpicEver since Gov. Pat McCrory took office, the folks he’s put in charge of environmental protection have been doing pretty much whatever the state’s corporate polluters have demanded.  McCrory’s original DENR Secreatry John Skvarla did just about everything he could to turn the one-time watchdog into an industry lapdog.

Now, however, even McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources thinks the state Senate has gone too far with its latest “regulatory reform”  proposal. The Department has sent an illustrated 4,100 word letter to the Senate in which it explains why it cannot support the latest version of House Bill 765.

Laura Leslie of WRAL.com has some of the details in the letter in this story.

Of course, given the interest the Senate has displayed in the past for the positions of the Governor, it seems hard to imagine that the letter will have much impact in the near term. The best one can hope for, apparently, is that — as with so many other issues — the 95% conservative House will slightly modify the positions of the 110% conservative Senate or, better yet, that the gridlock and dysfunction that grips the GOP-dominated General Assembly will help to scuttle the entire proposal. Stay tuned. The bill is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor tomorrow.

Click here to read the full DENR letter.

Click here to read a fact sheet on the bill from the genuine watchdogs at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Commentary

Climate change - droughtLike their intellectual predecessors who for so long denied the dangers of tobacco smoke, the creativity of climate change deniers in manufacturing excuses and red herring-filled critiques of common sense public regulations knows few bounds. At some point, however, the evidence simply becomes so overwhelming that reasonable people simply stop listening to the denials.

Let’s hope that a new federal EPA report hastens the arrival of that day. This is from a Washington Post article that was reprinted in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“A global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions would prevent nearly 70,000 premature American deaths annually by the end of the century while sparing the country hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of economic losses, according to a major government study on the cost of climate change.

Slowing the carbon build-up in the atmosphere would also prevent severe damage to a wide range of critical ecosystems, from Hawaiian coral reefs that support tourism to shellfish beds off the East Coast, said the report released by the White House on Monday.

The report, a five-year, peer-reviewed analysis that assesses the benefits of alternative strategies for dealing with climate change, concludes that every region of the country could be spared severe economic disruptions that would result if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to soar.”

The article goes on to explain some of the myriad ways in which human health and overall well-being could be enhanced if we would simply stop poisoning the planet so aggressively.

Click here to explore and download the entire EPA report – “Climate Change in the United State: Benefits of Global Action.”

Commentary

steamroller1The hits (and slashes and burns) to North Carolina’s ever-more-fragile natural environment just keep on a comin’ at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Yesterday morning, while few people were watching, a Senate Committee unveiled and quickly approved yet another new proposal to lay waste to environmental rules (and a lot more of the state’s land and water that they helped protect). The good folks at the state chapter of the Sierra Club provided the following helpful and disheartening summary:

“From Mowing Lawns to Mowing Down Buffers?

An innocuous House measure dealing with local government authority to address overgrown vegetation was reconstituted on Wednesday morning into yet another omnibus regulatory reform bill.

House Bill 44 (Cities/Overgrown Vegetation Notice) was renamed “Local Government Regulatory Reform” in Wednesday’s Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. The new version of the bill was then adopted which, among other provisions, would allow large portions of the middle and lower Neuse River watershed as well as the Tar-Pamlico River watershed to be exempted from the state’s vegetated buffer requirements that protect water quality for nutrient-sensitive waters.

The Neuse and the Tar-Pamlico are two of North Carolina’s largest watersheds. The provision (Section 13) would effectively exempt most properties in the affected areas, allowing much larger loads of pollution to enter the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico estuaries. [Note: An amendment offered by Sen. John Alexander (R-Wake County) that was adopted by the committee takes the upper Neuse River basin out of the bill, thereby protecting Falls Lake from the proposals in this bill.]

Another buffer provision (Section 14) in the newly repackaged bill would also severely reduce the size and efficacy of coastal wetlands buffers which are so important for protecting our estuaries and seafood industry.

North Carolina adopted a system of vegetated buffers to protect water quality following the events of the mid 1990’s, when massive fish kills occurred on the Neuse due to agricultural runoff depleting the oxygen in the waters.

Some of the buffer provisions in the new H 44 mirror provisions in H 760, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, which has been awaiting action in the Senate since the first week of May.

Another provision in the bill (Section 7) would make it significantly harder for local communities to create bike lanes by requiring a majority vote of the NC Board of Transportation for what is now a local government decision. .

H 44 has no other committee stops in the Senate and is calendared to be on the Senate floor later today. If passed, it would return to the House for concurrence.”

Commentary

We know this stuff is complicated, but if you’d really like to understand what North Carolina is doing to promote solar power (and other renewables) and why it is good for our economy, jobs, competition, freedom, capitalism, electric bills and, incidentally, the future of the planet, watch this excellent presentation at last week’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation by Ivan Urlaub, Executive Director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. (Click to the 5:30 mark to skip the introduction).

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Commentary

Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:

NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.

SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.

Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.

The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.

H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.

After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.

“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”

“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

And this is from EDF:

North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems

(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.

“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.

“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.

“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”