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Not that the powers that be in Raleigh appear terribly concerned about what the majority of people living along the North Carolina coast think, but another coastal community has spoken up loudly and clearly against Governor Pat McCrory’s wrongheaded decision to proceed with offshore oil exploration. This is from the lead article in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Thunderous applause followed a Wilmington City Council decision Tuesday to oppose oil drilling off the North Carolina coast.

Attendees against offshore drilling — some waving “Don’t drill N.C.” signs — filled seats, lined the walls and overflowed into an upstairs area at the council chambers Tuesday evening. The crowd was so large that about 100 people had to wait outside the meeting after the room hit capacity.

The resolution approved unanimously by the council, presented by councilman Charlie Rivenbark, opposes both offshore drilling and seismic testing to find oil and natural gas….

According to [the environmental group] Oceana, 15 North Carolina municipalities — including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Topsail Beach — have passed resolutions voicing concerns about seismic testing or offshore drilling.”

Meanwhile, the good people at the North Carolina Coastal Federation, who have spoken out loudly and clearly about the huge dangers of offshore drilling will be hosting another forum on the subject in New Bern next Friday. This from the online description:

“What does the North Carolina coast look like today – economically, environmentally and socially? How could this change with the introduction of the oil and gas industry? This forum is intended to delve into the economic truths, environmental implications, and actual effects on coastal communities. Speakers include researchers, regulators, elected officials and coastal residents, from the Gulf of Mexico to Currituck Sound.”

Click here to learn more and register. The deadline is this Friday the 24th.

And if you’d like to get the full scoop on the move to turn the North Carolina coast into a version of Louisiana’s from the comfort of your own computer, click here to watch a presentation from earlier this year by Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law center at an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon.

Commentary

In case you missed it, an editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer rightfully blasted the state Senate’s latest outrageous effort to gut state environmental regulations:

Some cynics are calling it the “Off-The-Wall Act of 2015.” Others suggest a better title might be the “Polluter Protection Act.”

In both cases they’re right. And what happened to House Bill 765 last weekend is a textbook chapter in how North Carolina lawmakers regularly commit outrages under cover of darkness.

Please note that we are not making a partisan statement here. For years, Democrats sparked Republican howls when they slipped through Trojan horse legislation that completely changed the purpose and effect of a bill. The howling traded sides when Republicans took over the General Assembly and quickly adopted time-tested Democratic dirty tricks.

House Bill 765 was, until recently, a one-page bill regulating the transportation of gravel. Last weekend, in the Senate, it became a 54-page epic that deregulated everything from profanity on public highways to the minimum age for operating all-terrain vehicles.

The bill is particularly pernicious in giving a greener light to polluters. It unprotects some wetlands, weakens stormwater regulations, removes air-quality monitors across the state and eliminates a requirement for recycling computers and televisions.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

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

frackThis spring, organizations across North Carolina are joining together to host “Fracking Stories,” a statewide screening tour of six short documentaries that explore the public health and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the ways that communities are coming together to respond. The events will provide an opportunity for audiences to learn about the issues, speak with community members, and gain information about how to get involved.

The North Carolina screening tour is co-presented by Clean Water for North Carolina, The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Appalachian Voices, and Working Films. In addition to the statewide partners, local collaborators include Pee Dee WALL, The Mountain People’s Assembly, WNC Frack Free, The Durham People’s Alliance, Sustainable Sandhills, The Winyah Rivers Foundation, The Haw River Assembly, 350.org Triangle, The Sierra Club Capitol Group, The Justice in a Changing Climate group at Community UCC, The Good Stewards of Rockingham, NC WARN, Temple Emanuel Environmental Movement (TEEM), No Fracking in Stokes, Carolina Taste, The New Hanover County NAACP, and The Cape Fear Group of the Sierra Club.

The series kicked off earlier this week in Pittsboro. Here’s the remainder of the schedule:

Fayetteville
Saturday May 23rd, 11:00am
Cameo Art House
225 Hay St, Fayetteville, NC 28301
Hosted by: Sustainable Sandhills

Raleigh
Tuesday May 26th, 7pm
Community UCC
814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607
Hosted by: 350.org Triangle, Sierra Club Capital Group, and The Justice in a Changing Climate Group at CUCC Read More

Commentary

Former state environmental official and current Appalachian Voices advocate Amy Adams (whose coal ash-covered hand graced hundreds of articles in the aftermath of the Dan River disaster last year) has written a highly instructive and disturbing explanation of the proposal in the current “regulatory reform” bill wending its way through the General Assembly to, in effect, eviscerate one of North Carolina’s most important anti-water pollution laws.

Bye, bye buffers
By Amy Adams

Buffers are an important concept in acid-base chemistry. A buffer is an aqueous solution that has a highly stable pH. If you add acid or base to a buffered solution, its pH will not change significantly. Also, adding water to a buffer or allowing water to evaporate will not change the pH of a buffer.

BuffersSimilarly, in ecosystems, a riparian buffer, (otherwise known as the strip of forest that runs adjacent to our streams and rivers) neutralizes many of the “acids” or “bases” coming of the land into the river. These stream buffers filter stormwater runoff before it enters the stream. The vegetation within the buffer absorbs the excess nutrients that enter our waters and cause algae blooms and fish kills. The outer reaches of the buffer (the most landward sections) slow and spread out the flow of water coming off the land. Slowing down the rainwater runoff traps the sediments and the attached pollutants and helps it infiltrate into the ground rather than flow across it. This infiltration, in turn, allows the vegetation within the inner reaches (closest to the stream) to absorb the nutrients.

It’s free and natural stream protection. It requires no investment, no engineers, no construction, just preservation of a 50 ft strip of land. (Well, really a 30 ft. strip of land, as the outer 20 ft. of the buffer can be maintained as yard and utilized for many uses.)Buffers 2

North Carolina holds stewardship of the second largest estuarine complex in the lower 48 states (the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary) and buffers are a critical part of maintaining the health and balance of this extremely important resource. The critical importance of sustaining the estuarine system was reflected in its Congressional designation as an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1987.

In addition to their nutrient and sediment removal functions, buffers just so happen to do a lot of other great things–even though these other reasons are not really why they were established in 1997: Read More