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As Clayton Henkel reports below, even national news media have taken note of the embarrassingly cozy relationship between Duke Energy and North Carolina’s environmental regulators. Of course, federal prosecutors have too.

If ever there was a time for the state’s governor to signal a new direction and put the public ahead of polluters, now’s the time. An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Wilmington Star News  agrees:

“[Outgoing secretary John] Skvarla insisted from day one that he intended to make the scaled-down Department of Environment and Natural Resources more ‘customer-friendly.’ And it quickly became clear that his definition of ‘customer’ largely meant the corporate and development interests that apply for environmental permits.

But there is another category of customers: the people of North Carolina. Not only do they pay taxes to support the department, but they count on its regulators to protect the environment and public health.”

It concludes this way:

“Questions about the cozy relationship between DENR staff and the businesses they regulate did not originate with this administration; it has been an ongoing issue. Regulators do not have to be unnecessarily obstructionist. There is a lot to be said for streamlining the permit process, providing clarity on the rules and making sure businesses do not face long delays in obtaining permits, assuming their projects meet state standards.

But a regulator’s job is to regulate, not to placate. McCrory says he will cast the net far and wide to find the right person to fill the DENR post, both inside and outside the agency. That person should not only be a strong leader but also understand that the agency’s primary responsibility is to protect the state’s air, water, soil and other natural resources.”

Read the entire piece by clicking here.

Commentary
John Skvarla

John Skvarla

Sharon Decker

Sharon Decker

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory announced a major change in his cabinet today. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is out and Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla will take her place. No word yet on who will head DENR after Skvarla.

Though it’s hardly unprecedented for a Governor to, in effect, transfer secretaries from one agency to another, in a normal/sane world this particular switch would raise eyebrows. After all, it’s one thing to be the state’s top environmental protection chief and it’s quite another to be it’s top business schmoozer.

Or at least it ought to be.

Unfortunately, under the present regime in Raleigh, such an idea is perfectly logical and consistent. That’s one of the main reasons that today’s announcement produced a unanimous yawn from state political observers: No one ever had any illusion that Skvarla was doing anything other than serving the state’s big business community at DENR. By all appearances, the new gig will simply allow him to do essentially the same thing he’s been doing  — just with a different title.

 

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out this this editorial in the Wilmington Star News: “Special interests invited to drilling meeting but not public.” As the paper rightfully explains, the McCrory administration’s latest gaffe when it comes to protecting our environment was as offensive as it was familiar.

The paper summarily dismisses and rebuts state Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla’s disingenuous excuses for excluding environmental advocates from the meeting:

“His staff told reporters and representatives of environmental groups that they couldn’t come in because of concerns that their attendance might arouse allegations of conflict of interest in the permit process. And attendance by special-interest groups funded by the petroleum industry would not?

What is clear is that state officials seem very comfortable shutting out people who may have some pertinent questions about safety and environmental measures regarding oil and gas exploration. Thursday’s meeting seems to be part of a pattern of excluding people who have serious concerns about the potential for pollution, dangers to marine life and public health problems and even geological ramifications if North Carolina is opened to oil and gas exploration, as Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders want.”

The authors conclude this way:

“North Carolinians of all political stripes are concerned about their natural surroundings and about their families’ health. Keeping secrets from them will not win their trust, or support for drilling.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Uncategorized

Falls LakeIt’s last-minute sausage making time down on Jones Street and lawmakers are doing their worst to ram through a raft of measures that are of, by and for the well-heeled special interests. See for example the 54-page “technical corrections” bill that was passed by the House last week and that’s scheduled to blitz through the Senate Rules Committee this morning.

On the environmental front, the last-minute mischief is taking many forms, including, as reporter Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning, another industry-designed threat to clean water. This is from Jarvis’ story entitled “Stream buffer protections rewritten by industry, DENR“:

A plan to update regulations that protect streams and rivers was adopted last year after a nearly five-year process that incorporated input from a wide range of interests.

In just five months this winter, the McCrory administration rewrote those rules with the help of private companies that had a financial stake in the outcome – including the company where state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla once worked….

Environmental groups that had been following the development of the new rules for years were surprised to find out the rules had been rewritten at all. They didn’t find out about it until this month, when a low-profile bill surfaced in the General Assembly that would authorize replacing the rules with the version written by the seven-member group.

“I didn’t even know they had met or issued a report,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, riverkeeper with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, who was involved with the original rules. “That was a shock. We had no idea. It was a little frustrating to know at the end of the process there were tweaks and other changes. We weren’t part of it.”

None of this is to say that there might not be good reasons to update the rules in this complex and important area. But the fact that the McCrory-Berger-Tillis team is plunging ahead without even informing — much less consulting — the state’s incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated environmental advocacy community is a testament to the bad faith that the state’s conservative political leadership has long brought (and continues to bring) to what ought to be its sacred duty to preserve our air, land and water.

Read Jarvis’ entire story by clicking here. Read the bill in question by clicking here.

more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

Uncategorized
DENR Secretary John Skvarla

DENR Secretary John Skvarla

With the expanding coal ash crisis and the bumbling response of North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources,  the environment is much on people’s minds these days. This morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record (entitled “Now you see it…”) highlights yet another areas in which DENR is affirmatively abetting pollution and undermining public health and well-being — climate change. The editorial even manages to work in a quote from comedian Stephen Colbert in its skewering of DENR and its embattled boss John Skvarla:

“Once described as a “fierce urgency” and a major priority, the subject of climate change is slowly disappearing from state environmental agency websites.

Now you see them, now you don’t, scrubbed away. Forever. Without a trace.

As WRAL.com has reported, the Division of Air Quality website once prominently displayed climate change information on its front page as recently as two months ago. Today it features none.

That division’s parent agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, began deleting climate change references even earlier, in 2013. Once a key component of the agency’s strategic plan, climate change does not even merit “Important Issues” status on the today’s DENR website.

We probably should have seen this coming….”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.