MountainTrue Raleigh Report — January 10, 2017

MountainTrue Raleigh Report — January 10, 2017

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.

MountainTrue Raleigh Report – Roy Cooper is Governor

MountainTrue Raleigh Report – Roy Cooper is Governor

MountainTrue Raleigh Report – December 7, 2016

In this installment of MTRaleigh: We have a new Governor — what does that mean for clean air and water in North Carolina? And the General Assembly comes back next week for a quick session on disaster recovery.

Roy Cooper is Governor.

This week, Pat McCrory conceded that Roy Cooper narrowly defeated him in the general election.  

Cooper will have his work cut out for him when he takes office next month. North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature has been hostile to even the most reasonable environmental protections.  Veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate will likely make most of what Cooper might want Dead On Arrival – unless Cooper can use his bully pulpit to bring the legislature to a place of agreement. Cooper’s difficulties with the General Assembly will be in place at least through the 2017 legislative session. It’s looking increasingly likely that the legislature will hold special elections in November 2017 for the 28 state House and Senate districts a federal court found to be racially gerrymandered. Depending on how those elections go, Cooper could end up with  more leverage with the legislature.  But for now, he will have very little room to operate.

At the administrative level, Cooper will face the challenge of rebuilding the agency that protects our air and water.  Under McCrory, the Department of Environmental Quality established a reputation for combativeness with environmental groups, defensiveness with the media and coziness with permittees (what they called their “customers”). Lowlights of the last fours years at DEQ include promotion of fracking and offshore drilling, nuclear fuels, and removal or lack of enforcement of rules to protect water quality and enforce the clean-up of Duke Energy’s coal ash pits. We’d also note a 53% reduction in the number of DEQ water quality enforcement actions since 2009.

Whomever Cooper picks to lead DEQ, the new Secretary will face a daunting list of internal and external challenges. Those include rebuilding the agency’s credibility, separating the ideologues hired during the McCrory years from the professionals within the DEQ ranks, restoring agency morale, navigating changes in environmental rules at the federal level and continuing to fend off  a hostile legislature. 

Special Session on Disaster Recovery

Next week, the legislature is scheduled to meet briefly – for one or two days at the most – to approve funding from the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund to help the state recover from its recent spate of disasters, including the wildfires that occurred in our region earlier last month. Look for legislators to try to keep their recovery legislation focused on state matching funds for federal FEMA assistance for agricultural losses, housing and infrastructure such as damaged roads and highways.

During the last few weeks, MountainTrue staff has talked to several legislators about including some preventive measures in the disaster package that are specifically targeted at WNC. These included funding to map potential landslides and money to evaluate and clean-up the most high-risk animal waste ponds in our region – there are more than 40  – before the next big storm pushes that waste into our rivers and streams.

The bad news is that legislators are reluctant to add anything to next week’s disaster bill that isn’t directly related to Hurricane Matthew or the fires. They fear that doing so will open the bill up to dozens of funding suggestions and bring the entire process to a grinding halt.

The good news is that there seems to be some momentum for disaster-prevention initiatives during the regular 2017 session – so look for MountainTrue to advocate for these ideas and others when legislators return to work in Raleigh in January.

That’s it for now.  We’ll send you another MTRaleigh update after the New Year, as we preview Cooper’s new executive appointments, the new legislature and the General Assembly’s first day, January 11.

(PS – MountainTrue is the only western NC environmental organization with a year-round lobbyist in Raleigh looking out for our mountains. Won’t you please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to support our state advocacy work? Click here to help – and Thanks!)


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.

The day after The Day

The day after The Day


The day after The Day


If you are like the rest of us here at MountainTrue, you woke up this morning with serious questions about the future – both in Western North Carolina and across the country and the world.

There’s plenty to be concerned about.

For starters, at a time when the natural world – and the scientific literature – is signaling a dangerous acceleration of climate change’s impact, our next president will be a pro-“clean coal” climate-science skeptic who doesn’t have an “Environment” section in his election platform and whose energy policy is, essentially, “Drill, Baby Drill.”

President Obama’s most important domestic climate change policy – the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and its limits on coal-fired power plants – is in serious jeopardy. Regardless of how the Supreme Court settles the upcoming CPP case, Trump’s EPA Administrator has the authority to shut down the program altogether. That is a path he or she will likely undertake, either at President Trump’s direction or by law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.

U.S. compliance with the world’s agreements on climate is also in question, let alone any new initiatives or American leadership on the issue. And then there are President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, who could usher in a generation of court decisions hostile to environmental regulation.

What’s to be done? We won’t pretend to have any simple answers, but the election results suggest that we will be playing defense for years to come.

We do know, however, that millions of people in this country – and thousands in our communities here in WNC – continue to believe that building a safe, prosperous future for our kids and our grandkids requires that we preserve and protect the natural resources we depend on.  We are even more deeply committed to that work and hope that you will join us in our efforts.

The NC Governor’s Race

If there is a bright spot about Election Day, it has to be the apparent defeat of Governor Pat McCrory.  Assuming Roy Cooper’s win is confirmed byrecount, his victory in a state that also supported Trump is a measure of just how wildly – and widely – unpopular McCrory has become. Many will view – correctly – Cooper’s victory as a referendum on HB2, and McCrory’s handling of the law. But our new Governor would be well-advised to recall that his predecessor’s handling of the state’s coal ash crisis, his appointment of ideologues to head important environmental agencies and his minions’ willingness to play politics with the safety of North Carolinians’ drinking water all played a part in the McCrory defeat. North Carolina voters want their government to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Politicians ignore that basic political reality at their own risk.

Governor Cooper will have his hands full meeting those goals. Both the state House and Senate return with veto-proof majorities, giving the Governor-elect very little leverage to shape or stop anti-environment legislation.

New Faces in Western North Carolina

Western North Carolina will have a number of new representatives in the General Assembly next year. Deanna Ballard was elected to represent Senate District 45, which was held by Senator Dan Soucek until he resigned in April. This district covers Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties. MountainTrue members have had two productive meetings with Sen. Ballard, and we have found her to be open to our concerns and respectful of our positions. We look forward to continuing to work with her.

Chuck Edwards was elected to represent Senate District 48, which includes southern Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties. This seat was previously held by Senator Tom Apodaca. Edwards had a very friendly meeting with a group of MountainTrue members during the summer. He told us that he sees no conflict in being a Republican and caring about the environment. He pledged to be a legislator with the same approach to environmental policy as Rep. Chuck McGrady.

Kevin Corbin and Cody Henson were also elected to represent our area in the House of Representatives. Corbin will represent House District 120, which includes Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, while Henson will cover District 113, including Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties. MountainTrue members have already met with both Corbin and Henson, and we will continue to build these relationships and educate them about environmental concerns and opportunities.

Among the WNC legislative races involving incumbents, Democratic Rep. John Ager defeated his GOP opponent, Frank Moretz, to return to the legislature for a second term. Two-term GOP incumbent Rep. Michele Presnell held off a tough challenge from Democrat Rhonda Schandevel and GOP Senator Jim Davis will return to the legislature for a fourth term after defeating challenger Democrat Jane Hipps.

Of course, a whole host of WNC legislators has been re-elected to serve in Raleigh. These include Republican representatives Josh Dobson, Chuck McGrady, and GOP Senator Ralph Hise. Among WNC Democrats, Reps. Brian Turner and Susan Fisher return to the General Assembly, along with Senator Terry Van Duyn.

At the time of this writing, Republican challenger Mike Clampitt of Bryson City apparently unseated Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen –who represents Jackson, Haywood and Swain counties. Look for Queen to request a recount on the race, which Clampitt won by a few hundred votes.

What’s Next?

With the election now passed, attention in Raleigh will turn to preparations for a special session on Hurricane Matthew recovery – probably next month – and the 2017 session, which begins January 11.

Here at MountainTrue, we are preparing for both sessions – look for another update soon about our plans for the General Assembly and how you can help ensure our elected officials do the right thing by our mountain communities.

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Most of the information in these alerts will NOT be available in other MountainTrue publications, so if you’re a WNC political junkie or policy wonk, these emails are for you.


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.

Election Day is November 8; Find Your Polling Place

Election Day is November 8; Find Your Polling Place

Early Voting Has Started; Find Your Polling Place

Election Day is a little more than two weeks away, and early voting started on October 20th! The presidential race has gotten most of the attention, but North Carolina voters will be faced with a crowded ballot at the polls.

At the federal level, we’ll be choosing who represents us in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In Raleigh, Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Treasurer, various commissioners and members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will all be up for reelection. And as if that wasn’t enough, you’ll also have the opportunity to vote for your County Commissioners and several local offices.

To help you make heads or tails of who’s running, what they stand for, and where to vote, here is a list of resources:

2016 NC Voter Guide – sponsored by Common Cause. You can see the candidates that will appear on your personalized ballot and there are useful links to find your early voting sites and election day polling place.

WNC Vote Tracker – a partnership project of Children First, Just Economics, MountainTrue, Pisgah Legal Services and Women for Women, A Giving Circle, this site provides information on important legislation passed in the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 on Economic Security, Education, Environment, Health & Safety, Government & Democracy, and Women’s Issues.

AVL Bonds Yes – Asheville residents will be voting on a package of three bonds that would generate $74 million in revenue for parks and recreation, affordable housing, and transportation network projects.


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.

MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

MountainTrue Raleigh Report, Issue 21: Hallelujah, That Session Is Over

Sine die (adverb). Definition: with reference to business or proceedings that have been adjourned with no appointed date for resumption, as in “On Friday, July 2, the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned sine die.”

In this edition of the MountainTrue Raleigh Report – It’s OVER! On Friday, legislators adjourned the short session sine die and headed back home – just in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

Up until the very end of session, there were a number of important bills still up in the air. Some good things happened and some bad things didn’t. Here’s the rundown on the end of session – and our overall take on what The Honorables did and didn’t do this year.

Coal Ash Rests With McCrory


If you remember, Chuck McGrady’s (and others’) coal ash legislation met with the veto stamp earlier this session. A veto override seemed likely, but the Senate stepped in and forged a “compromise” with Governor McCrory.

The new bill eliminates the state’s Coal Ash Commission and requires Duke Energy to provide drinking water either through water lines or filtration systems to residents within a half-mile of the coal ash pits. DEQ will also assess how far contaminants from the coal ash ponds have traveled in groundwater and could be required to take further measures for clean water.

Under the bill, once Duke Energy has provided the water lines or filtration systems to local residents and can certify that it has fixed leaks or problems with dams at a coal ash site, DEQ is required to classify the site as low risk. That designation could allow Duke to cap the site and leave the coal ash in place in unlined basins for the foreseeable future.

MountainTrue and a number of other environmental organizations – as well as Rep. McGrady – opposed this legislation. In our view, this latest coal ash bill guts the criteria the state uses to determine how dangerous the coal ash pits are to surrounding communities.  Unless something changes, the result will be that coal ash pits will continue to pollute our groundwater as well as our rivers and streams.

The bill is now awaiting action by the governor, who seems all but certain to sign it.

Crunching the Budget Numbers

There is plenty of good and bad in the new, $22.34 billion budget. You can read overview stories like this one from WRAL for a sense of the big-ticket items. Here are some provisions of special interest to us:

  • DuPont Recreational Forest receives $3 million in funding for new restroom and parking facilities, as well as a provision that would allow the forest to compete with other parks projects in the annual round of grants from the state’s Parks and Recreational Trust Fund. New staffing positions are also created to help oversee DuPont’s management.

  • The budget restores funding and positions for the Natural Heritage Program, which was reduced by $314,726 in 2015. The revised net appropriation for the program is $764,726.

  • An $8.6M increase for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund is included, bringing the total appropriation for FY16-17 to $22.4 million. That is the single largest appropriation to the CWMTF since 2010.

  • The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust is increased by $1 million.

  • Funding for the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund was maintained, bringing the total appropriation for FY16-17 to $22.7 million.

  • A provision to repeal stream buffer rules, endangering water and habitat, was largely eliminated, but clean up rules for Jordan and Falls lakes in the Triangle were delayed even further.

Things Left On the Table

The two regulatory reform bills – S303 and H593 – died when session ended. That’s good news for those of us who care about the environment.

Some of the items of concern in these bills included:

  • A prohibition on the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) and Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from enforcing air emissions standards that regulate fuel combustion that “directly or indirectly” provides hot water or heating to a residence, or heating to a business.

  • Requiring the EMC to achieve a 3/5 majority to adopt federal new source performance standards (NSPS), maximum achievable control technology (MACT), or hazardous air pollutant standards; and disallows state enforcement of federal standards until the EMC adopts them.

  • Prohibiting stormwater control measures, exempting landscaping material from stormwater management requirements and amending stream mitigation requirements.

H3, the Omnibus Constitutional Amendments bill, was also left on the table as session ended. The bill proposed three constitutional amendments for the November ballot. The amendments concerned eminent domain; the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife; and capping the state’s personal income tax at 5.5 percent (the current cap is 10 percent). Look for the cap on income tax to be a major issue during the 2017 session.

Post Mortem

Judging the 2016 legislative session and its impact on the environment does not lead to clear-cut generalizations.

On the plus side, the state budget makes important – and substantial – new investments in open space preservation, both statewide (with a large bump in funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund) and in western North Carolina (DuPont State Forest).

On the downside, the budget also includes rollbacks on clean water provisions for two of the state’s largest drinking water sources – Jordan and Falls lakes. Here again, however, things could have been much worse, as the original language in the Senate budget would have repealed protections in a number of other river basins. Thankfully, those protections were left in place.

Lawmakers also get high marks (of a sort) for what they didn’t do. A political meltdown that occurred at the end of session meant that two regulatory “reform” bills died when the Senate abruptly ended the session before they could be approved – taking a number of bad policies down at the same time.

Still, it’s hard to give the legislature good grades on anything in light of what it did on coal ash. The revised legislation seriously weakens the protections approved just two years ago.  Perhaps most appalling, the new law allows DEQ to reclassify coal pits all over North Carolina and likely allows Duke Energy to leave the coal ash in place – in unlined pits – instead of moving it to safer, lined facilities.

Overall, we have to give the legislature low to middling grades – at best – this year when it comes to protecting our water, our air and our open space.

That’s probably enough about the General Assembly for now. In future updates, we’ll let you know about some upcoming meetings with legislators we are planning in WNC. And we’ll have news about our plans for the 2017 legislature, which begins in January.  In the meantime, enjoy the summer and the knowledge that the legislature is out of session and can’t do any more damage for the rest of the year.


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.

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

Bad Coal Ash Bill Being Rushed Through Raleigh

On the evening of Tuesday, June 28 the North Carolina Senate rushed through a rewrite to H630, the state’s coal ash cleanup law. This bad coal ash bill is quickly making its way through the legislature and we expect the House to take it up as soon as today.

Please call your NC Representative Immediately and ask them to NOT CONCUR with the Senate’s version of House Bill 630. 

Official statement by MountainTrue Co-director Julie Mayfield:

“The legislature’s rewrite of the state’s coal ash cleanup law is a betrayal of the people of North Carolina. The General Assembly has abdicated its responsibility to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash and protect us from the ill effects of toxic pollutants.

“HB630 would disband the Coal Ash Management Commission and with it any effective oversight of the Department of Environmental Quality, which has a poor record of protecting our communities and our environment. Worse, this new legislation delays final classification for North Carolina’s coal ash pits and completely guts the criteria the state uses to determine the threat of these pits to our communities. The result will leave coal ash in place to continue polluting groundwater, our rivers and our streams.

“The strength of the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 (CAMA) was that it used science to guide the coal ash cleanup effort. That science indicated that there are no low priority coal ash sites or low priority communities. Now the legislature wants to scrap the  protections that are based on that science – protections lawmakers themselves have repeatedly touted as ‘the best in the country.’ The legislature’s willingness to weaken laws that protect so many people from such harmful pollution is both bewildering and shameful.”

Read the full text of H630.

H630, as passed by the Senate, would:

  • eliminate the Coal Ash Management Commission and, with it, legislative oversight over the NC Department of Environmental Quality, a deeply politicized agency with a poor track record;
  • eliminate criteria for risk assessment based on a site’s threats to public health, safety, welfare, the environment and natural resources;
  • give Duke two years, until October 15, 2018, to provide clean drinking water to affected households through a water line or filtration device;
  • require that DEQ classify ponds as “low risk” if dams are repaired and public water supply hookups are provided, regardless of whether they continue to pollute ground and surface waters;
  • allow the DEQ to revise and downgrade their classifications of coal ash pits for 18 months, until November 15, 2018;
  • delay closure plans for low and intermediate sites until December 31, 2019; and
  • give DEQ expanded authority to grant variances and extensions to the deadlines above, creating further delay and less accountability for Duke Energy.

The time to act is NOW. Call your representative and tell them that no North Carolina community is a low priority. Tell them to oppose H630.


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.