September 22, 2017/Press

ICYMI: GOP legislators’ actions on environment speak louder than words

Raleigh – HB56 is the result of the Republican General Assembly’s nearly decade-long effort to inadequately address our environmental watchdogs, and flies in the face of Outer Banks locals:

News & Observer: As NC pollution concerns grow, so do environmental budget cuts 

“…money directed to environmental regulation has dropped by millions of dollars over the last decade, even as the state budget has grown significantly. Dozens of environmental protection jobs have disappeared, in specialties ranging from the coast to rivers and air pollution. And a months-long backlog of paperwork mean more companies are able to operate under outdated permits, without recent oversight.”

Outer Banks Voice: Gov. Cooper vetoes bill that includes plastic bag ban repeal  

“The Dare County Board of Commissioners and the town boards of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, along with The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, passed resolutions or sent letters to Boswell and Cook opposing the repeal … [Steinburg] noted that nearly all correspondence to his office has been in opposition to a repeal, and has come from conservative, liberal and unaffiliated residents and business owners. ”

News & Observer: As NC pollution concerns grow, so do environmental budget cuts 
By Will Doran
September 22, 2017 

Just days after North Carolina environmental regulators began looking into a potentially hazardous pollutant in one of the state’s biggest rivers, state lawmakers cut their funding.

In the new budget they passed June 22, legislators ordered the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to cut $1.8 million over the next two years.

It was just the latest in a decade of cuts to state regulators. While exact budget comparisons are difficult because of shifting agency responsibilities, money directed to environmental regulation has dropped by millions of dollars over the last decade, even as the state budget has grown significantly.

Dozens of environmental protection jobs have disappeared, in specialties ranging from the coast to rivers and air pollution. And a months-long backlog of paperwork mean more companies are able to operate under outdated permits, without recent oversight.

The cuts have led to real consequences, said Gradie McCallie, policy director for the environmental group N.C. Conservation Network, including a weakened ability for the state to respond to issues like the pollution in the Cape Fear River that came to light this summer.

“I think we’ve seen a real erosion in the capacity of the state to deal with emerging issues,” McCallie said.

Response to GenX 

The state has accused a Chemours Co. plant near Fayetteville of improperly dumping GenX into the river that provides the drinking water for much of southeastern North Carolina.

Under the bill Cooper vetoed, lawmakers would give $435,000 to the Cape Fear utility authority and UNC Wilmington to begin addressing the pollution. Cooper and many fellow Democrats, however, said the money was inadequate and directed to the wrong places.

A decade of cuts 

Water quality regulation shed 70 positions in just the last four years, Cooper has said.

And when he vetoed the bill, he cited other cuts to the division that inspects permits that companies apply for before they can discharge chemicals into waterways.

“These cuts are particularly glaring when comparing North Carolina to other states,” Cooper wrote in a Medium post explaining his veto. “North Carolina has nine permit writers for 220 water discharge facilities. Meanwhile, South Carolina has almost twice as many officials overseeing far fewer facilities.”

Over the last decade, the budget of the agency formerly known as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, now DEQ, has shrunk 62 percent. Some of that has been cuts; some has been from responsibilities transferred to other agencies.

In 2007, the Democrat-led legislature gave the agency a $205 million budget. After the recession hit, Democrats cut that budget by $10 million before losing power in 2010. Since then, Republican legislators have cut or transferred another $110 million.

In that same period, the state budget has grown 13 percent, from $20.4 billion in 2007 to $23 billion in 2017.

Between 2009 and 2016, both the Water Supply Protection division of DEQ and the agency’s seven regional offices have lost about a third of their employees.

Water Supply Protection’s staffing dropped from 92 to 65 full-time equivalents, and the field offices’ staffing dropped from 73 to 50.

DEQ has also suffered from some cuts that never showed up on its budget.

In 2016, for example, the legislature cut the jobs of nine lawyers and legal assistants who worked for DEQ, although the cuts were technically to the attorney general’s budget. Cooper was attorney general at the time.

Unless something changes when legislators return to Raleigh in October – or between then and next year’s budget discussions – DEQ will be in for even more cuts.

This year Cooper suggested a DEQ budget of $85 million, which would’ve been an increase of a few million dollars. Instead, legislators gave DEQ another round of cuts, down to $78 million this fiscal year and $77 million next year.

Read the full article here
Outer Banks Voice: Gov. Cooper vetoes bill that includes plastic bag ban repeal
By Sam Walker
September 21, 2017 

The ban on single-use, thin plastic shopping bags by most retailers on the Outer Banks will continue, for now, after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper issued a veto Thursday of a bill passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in August that would amend state environmental laws.

The main spark rekindling HB 56 last month by the General Assmebly was the GenX controversy on the Cape Fear River, and a request by Gov. Roy Cooper for funds to expand study of the chemical.

Senate leaders focused on the GenX issue in their response.

“I am troubled that the governor would place politics ahead of public safety, and prioritize bureaucracy over results,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover. “He is now on record for rejecting the only proposal that will actually help clean our drinking water in the lower Cape Fear region.”

“Shame on Gov. Cooper for vetoing a local solution, developed by this region’s local representatives, to immediately improve water quality for their constituents, neighbors and own families – simply because it did not achieve his preferred objective of growing a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners and the town boards of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, along with The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, passed resolutions or sent letters to Boswell and Cook opposing the repeal.

Citizen and small business opposition to the rollback focused mostly on lobbying Cook and Boswell, rather than taking on the larger chains with locations in the area who remained silent on the issue.

The repeal effort had the support of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association and several conservative-leaning statewide groups.

Boswell and Cook did not mention the bag ban repeal in written statements to the Voice on Thursday.

Steinburg said that although he would have opposed the ban if he had been in the General Assembly in 2009, he is willing to support it because its the will of the people in Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties.

He noted that nearly all correspondence to his office has been in opposition to a repeal, and has come from conservative, liberal and unaffiliated residents and business owners.

“I’m business-friendly and I understand the small savings that the stores would see, but we do not make plastic bags in North Carolina,” Steinburg said.

“We have KapStone in Roanoke Rapids, right here in northeastern North Carolina, that makes the material for paper bags and employs 425 people with wages well above the norm for the area. That means a lot to the region as a whole, including our local timber industry.”

“The people of the Outer Banks see it as a source of pride and can say ‘Our beaches are so clean we don’t even use plastic bags’,” Steinburg said. “I think the modest cost that retailers have to absorb is more than made up for by the record numbers of tourism and the business tourism generates.”

If the ban is repealed by state lawmakers, an option to implement a ban on the local level is not available.

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten reported to county commissioners on Monday that state statute prohibits Dare County from even holding a referendum on implementing a ban.

Read the full article here

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