MountainTrue Raleigh Report — January 10, 2017

Happy New Year from Raleigh, where state government is rushing right into 2017

 

Just after the clock struck midnight on January 1, Roy Cooper took the oath of office and was sworn in as our state’s 75th governor. He has just begun to announce his cabinet, staff and agenda, and we will learn more in the coming weeks.

New DEQ Head Named

One of Cooper’s  first announcement was his pick for the new secretary of DEQ – Michael Regan. Regan is a longtime environmental advocate, who is a veteran of both the Environmental Defense Fund and the EPA.

While at EDF, he worked on a legal challenge and eventual settlement with Duke Energy that required the utility to retire its oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. He also believes that a clean environment and clean energy are drivers for economic development, including in poor and rural areas.

Regan said his first goal as secretary is to get the advice of those who serve in DEQ. He also pledged to improve transparency and work with stakeholders to help solve environmental problems.

Regan is a native of eastern North Carolina and a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University and George Washington University.

Under a new law, Regan’s nomination must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Legislative Outlook

Cooper will soon be joined in Raleigh by members of the 2017 General Assembly. Legislators return on January 11th for what is expected to be a short organizational meeting to officially elect Senate and House leaders.

Lawmakers are expected to recess for two weeks to allow committees to be appointed so that the real work of the 2017 legislature can begin on January 25.  Our state does not set constitutional limits on the length of the session, so how long the 2017 General Assembly will be at its work is anyone’s guess. It will certainly continue at least until July 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year.

Lawmakers are coming off three December special sessions – one on disaster relief, another to change Cooper and other statewide elected officials’ authority and a third on HB2. While the disaster session went largely as expected, the two other sessions were extremely controversial. The first session passed a wide-ranging elections bill that made appellate court races partisan and merged lobbying, ethics and elections oversight into one agency. In that same session, lawmakers limited Governor Cooper’s ability to hire and fire appointees for his administration and moved a good bit of education policy-making power from the State Board of Education to the new superintendent of public instruction.  WRAL has a good summary of what happened in the special session. Pretty much everything that passed during this session is now being challenged in court. A week later, legislators returned to Raleigh, argued, finagled and voted but ultimately couldn’t pass a repeal of HB2, the controversial legislation concerning LGBTQ civil rights.

DEQ Shenanigans

Of course, no MountainTrue Raleigh report would be complete without some news from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Shortly before Cooper took office, GOP-appointed DEQ Secretary van der Vaart demoted himself in order to avoid dismissal as a political appointee when Cooper took office. He will return to a position in the air quality division as a section chief, where he worked for 20 years before being promoted by former Governor Pat McCrory.  

What’s Next?

It’s hard to imagine that the acrimony and partisanship on display during much of 2016 in Raleigh won’t continue in the new year. Much hinges on what the courts decide on the changes to the Governor’s powers, HB2 and court-mandated redistricting.

Here at MountainTrue, we’ll continue to talk to legislators from both parties about clean water, clean air and making North Carolina’s future a sustainable one. We will keep you posted as issues develop and hope you will join us in our advocacy efforts.

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.