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John SkvarlaOne of the signature “accomplishments” of conservative state leadership in North Carolina in recent years has been the steady and ongoing rollback of state environmental protection laws and regulations. This is not to imply that the state has ever done enough — even under past General Assemblies and governors — to truly protect our ever-more-fragile air, land and water, but it’s also clear that things have gotten much, much worse in recent years.

Whether it’s the efforts to deny climate change and sea-level rise, fast-track fracking and off-shore oil drilling, stop efforts to clean up Jordan Lake, build artificial sea walls along the coast, roll back scores of rules and regulations, pack various commissions and boards with advocates hostile to environmental protection, limit land preservation, slash funding or just defund, demoralize, break up and change the mission statement of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself, the conservative agenda has been (and continues to be) a long and ambitious one.

Fortunately, one of the chief architects of the effort, DENR Secretary John Skvarla, has some advice for his agency employees who may feel a sense of discouragement at their increasingly disfavored status: Don’t worry, be happy! Read More

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011 set a record for the number of billion dollar disasters in a single year in the US – 12 – topping nine events in 2009. Two of those were in our state – Hurricane Irene and the April tornadoes, placing NC fourth for 2011. The 12 events, which included extreme drought, wildfires, floods, heat waves, winter storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, caused more than 1,000 deaths and 8,000 injuries.

In a recent online video, National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said, “In my weather career spanning four decades, I’ve never seen a year quite like 2011… Extreme weather and associated societal impacts have increased in recent years with our changing climate and the nation must be prepared for more frequent extreme weather in the future.”

While every natural disaster cannot be linked to global warming, a warming climate provides more fuel for extreme events. Yet even in the face of 2011’s extreme weather, Republicans and Democrats alike drag their feet to create policies to curb global warming.

Here are some policy and regulatory debates to watch this year. Together these will have short and long term impacts on global warming and the nation’s energy policy. The only question is whether our elected officials will help or hinder our need to move to a clean energy economy. Read More