Gov. Cooper proposes $145 million budget for DEQ, would include money to address climate change, PFAS in drinking water

These are the historical expenditures for the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The 2015-2016 figures reflect the McCrory administration’s shift of some divisions from DEQ to the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. (Source: Gov. Cooper’s budget)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality would receive $145 million in appropriations in 2021-22 under Gov. Roy Cooper’s new budget proposal, a 52% increase from his 2019 recommendations.

Under the governor’s proposal, in 2022-23 the department would receive $133 million.

This money includes salaries for 58 additional full-time positions.

DEQ would get a $3.3 million infusion to tackle the persistent of emerging compounds, such as PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane, in drinking water. The money would pay for 26 positions — chemists, hydrogeologists and engineers — to help contain these contaminant where no financially viable party can be located. A portion of the money would pay for alternative drinking water supplies to eligible people affected by emerging compounds.

Cooper’s staff presented his comprehensive $27.4 billion budget recommendation to lawmakers yesterday.

Many of the governor’s latest budget recommendations for DEQ address the existential crisis of climate change. Funding in Year 1 of the biennium includes $180,000 for additional coastal resilience staff, $35 million for flood mitigation and other water infrastructure projects, $369,000 for  landslide mapping and $255,000 for three new positions to help swine farmers manage their wastewater and comply with the law.

With in the Department of Agriculture budget, Cooper has recommended $9 million be appropriated each year for the swine farm buyout program. This voluntary program pays swine farmers to place easements on their land if their operations are in the 100-year floodplain. Demand for the program has outstripped funding.

Nearly $70 million from a separate Energy & Environment Reserve would pay for clean energy programs, including those that would help local governments and schools with energy efficiency, renewable energy and a transition to zero-emission school buses, which currently run on highly polluting diesel fuel.

It’s unlikely that DEQ will receive the full funding as recommended by the governor. For more than a decade, state lawmakers have slashed the agency’s budget and workforce. In 2019-20, Cooper proposed a $95 million base budget for DEQ; the legislature approved about $80 million.

This is just the first step in the months-long and fraught budget process. The legislature drafts its own proposals, which are typically amended dozens of times. House and Senate leadership appoint members to a budget conference committee that negotiates on a final draft for a vote by both chambers.

Gov. Cooper can also veto the legislation, which he did in 2019, objecting to a lack of adequate funding for schools and health care. That year, the legislature overrode the veto.

 

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