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.”


Solar powerA giant Swiss investment  bank thinks so. As the good folks at Think Progress point out in this story, the bank, UBS, has issued a new report in which it concludes that Europe may soon be approaching the point at which “large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past.”

The reason for this incredibly hopeful prospect is pretty straightforward: “a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles…will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas.” Talk about a great response to the problem of coal ash production!

Meanwhile, here in the states, activists and entrepreneurs continue to make important inroads in advancing the cause of renewables despite the stubborn resistance of giant fossil fuel companies and the politicians and right-wing “think tanks” on their payrolls. A classic and hopeful example was in my email inbox this morning from the state chapter of the Sierra Club:

“Clean Energy For Raleigh” kicks-off program to fast track solar and energy efficiency for homeowners and businesses

RALEIGH – Clean Energy For Raleigh (CE4R), a ground-breaking community-based program that makes the adoption of solar power and energy efficiency upgrades cheaper and easier, has made its way to Raleigh.

“This model blows away the three biggest barriers to adopting clean energy – cost, red-tape, and inaction,” said Chelsea Barnes, the CE4R community coordinator and a volunteer with the NC Sierra Club Capital Group, the program’s sponsor. Read More


One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

Read More


Advocates at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation have formally called on the state Environmental Management Commission to conduct a review of questionable circumstances surrounding the demise of rules designed to prevent water pollution.

According to a letter from the groups that was delivered to the Commission yesterday, proposed rules governing riparian buffer mitigation (i.e. the use of vegetated strips of land along side waterways to protect them from pollution) were scuttled last year when the Rules Review Commission received several letters of objection. Under state law, when the Commission receives 10 or more such letters, the rule(s) in question are forwarded to the General Assembly for additional review.

In this case, however, four of the 11 letters of objection ultimately submitted were from McCrory administration staffers employed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). As the environmental advocates note, this may well have been an unprecedented and highly questionable set of circumstances: Read More


Offshore windThis just in from the good folks the the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

For Immediate Release

North Carolina Moves One Step Closer to Offshore Wind Development

WILMINGTON – Earlier today, the US Department of the Interior announced that it has defined three Wind Energy Areas off the coast of North Carolina which total 307,590 acres. The possibility of offshore wind development for the state intensified after a study by UNC Chapel Hill researchers found that potential wind resources off our coast were the largest on the Atlantic seaboard. A report by Governor Perdue’s Scientific Advisory Panel on Offshore Energy came to a similar conclusion in 2011.

After the announcement, Zak Keith, lead organizer for the NC Sierra Club issued the following statement:

We have known for years that North Carolina has the best offshore wind resource potential of any state on the East Coast. This announcement is a welcome sign that our state can start to take advantage of the clean energy opportunity sitting on our doorstep.

We are one step closer to creating clean energy jobs in North Carolina. It’s becoming clear that offshore wind is a better option than drilling off our coast.