MountainTrue Raleigh Report | June 8, 2017 – A Bit of Good News

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | June 8, 2017 – A Bit of Good News

MountainTrue Raleigh Report | June 8, 2017 – A Bit of Good News

A Bit of Good News

Late last week, the House approved its version of the state’s budget by a vote of 80-31. The good news is that on state funding for the NC Department of Environmental Quality, the House refused to go along with the Senate, which made staggering cuts to the Department’s ability to protect our air, water and public health.

A BIG thanks to all the MountainTrue supporters who called, emailed and wrote lawmakers to oppose these short-sighted cuts.

And by the way, while you’re celebrating, take a quick moment to call or send a quick note or tweet to Rep. Chuck McGrady of Henderson County to thank him for his leadership in improving the House budget for the environment. McGrady has a key leadership role in the House budget process and led the charge against the Senate’s DEQ cuts. His twitter handle is @ChuckMcGrady and you can email him at Chuck.McGrady@ncleg.net.

Unfortunately, our work protecting the agency that protects our water and air is not complete. With approval of the House budget comes the final step in the budget – conference. Conference is shorthand for the process the House and Senate use to work out their final, compromise budget before sending it to the Governor for signature (or veto).

The arrival of conference means we need to let lawmakers know, again, that we want DEQ to have the financial resources its needs to keep protect our natural resources.

So….Time to Contact Lawmakers Again

That means it is time to contact our legislators again, especially senators. You can click here to use our system to locate and contact your legislators. If you have time, please consider calling, as their offices are inundated with email this time of year. Keep it short and sweet – tell them to support the House funding for DEQ and oppose the Senate’s cuts to the agency.

The Curious Path of A Bad Transportation Bill

Another issue MountainTrue is working on is Raleigh got quite a bit of attention last week  – bill a establishing a new fund for transportation “megaprojects” of statewide or regional importance that cost more than $200 million. In North Carolina – which has a long history of mixing politics with transportation funding decisions to the detriment of the environment – we use something called the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) program to prioritize how transportation funds should be spent across the state. STI was approved by the GOP legislature several years ago, with support from MountainTrue and other environmental groups, which welcomed it as a rational, transparent way to make these decisions.

Which brings us to the megaprojects bill, which would do an end-run run around the STI and leave decisions about how to spend the megaprojects money to a small committee within the NC Department of Transportation.

The bill had a curious pathway to an abrupt ending. It was approved by the House despite significant opposition within the House GOP caucus and much speculation that it would die a quick death in the Senate, where several key legislators were quite vocal about how much they disliked the bill. Yet when it arrived in the Senate, the bill moved quickly and easily through the committee process – much to the chagrin of MountainTrue and other opponents, who were repeatedly reassured not to worry about the bill. The mystery was solved when the bill hit the full Senate – where it was defeated overwhelmingly, with just one yes vote (from WNC Senator Jim Davis).

So what happened? Under Senate rules, a bill that is defeated on the floor cannot be taken up again during the session. So the Senate apparently disliked the megaprojects bill so much, they took the unusual step of driving the ultimate political stake through its heart – and killing the megaprojects proposal for not just the rest of this session but for the 2018 session as well. Thanks to all our WNC Senators – both Republican and Democrat – who voted against this legislation.


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.

MT Raleigh Report | May 18, 2017 — Assault on the Environment

MT Raleigh Report | May 18, 2017 — Assault on the Environment

MT Raleigh Report | May 18, 2017 — Assault on the Environment

In this week’s MountainTrue Raleigh Report: The General Assembly’s assault on the state’s environmental protection agency (and what you can do about it), MountainTrue in Raleigh and the environment grows our economy.

The Assault on NC’s Department of Environmental Quality

Last week at the General Assembly was all about the budget. As you may remember, Governor Cooper released his proposed FY17-18 and FY18-19 budget proposal in March. Now the General Assembly has started the process of approving the state’s $23 billion spending plan. Unfortunately, when Senate Republicans released their budget plan very late on Tuesday night, they published the latest chapter in the GOP legislature’s assault on the environment by slashing funding and positions for the Department of Environmental Quality’s. Contact your State House Reps TODAY and tell them to oppose this budget!

Since 2011, the legislature has cut staff and lowered environmental protections throughout the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency responsible for enforcing state and federal rules that protect our water and our air and our public health. Earlier this year, former DEQ assistant secretary Robin Smith researched the impact of these cuts on DEQ. Not surprisingly, she found that DEQ has experienced large reductions in the environmental staff responsible for protecting our state’s natural resources. She also documented long delays in approval, review and renewal of permits that ensure polluters are complying with state and federal clean water and air protections. You can find Smith’s entire analysis of the impact of the GOP cuts here.

The draft budget released earlier this week by the Senate majority continues this sad story.

Under the Senate budget, DEQ would lose 45 full-time positions. The Senate budget would also eliminate the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, which helps businesses and communities comply with environmental regulations and permitting. The Division also boosts recycling, energy efficiency and cutting emissions. In addition, $1 million would be cut from DEQ’s energy office under the Senate plan.

The silver lining in the Senate budget includes some modest new investments in the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and funding to help preserve farmland. The Senate also sets aside $2 million to purchase new firefighting aircraft in the wake of devastating wildfires in Western North Carolina.

But while these investments are laudable, overall the Senate budget represents a staggering threat to the state agency responsible for keeping our air and water clean and protecting the health of millions North Carolinians.

You can read more about the budget on WRAL at and The News & Observer.

MountainTrue in Raleigh

MountainTrue staff members were back in Raleigh this week, meeting with legislators to talk about the budget and other WNC priorities. On the top of our list: funding for DEQ, investments to help farmers comply with clean water rules and to assist mountain communities identify potential landslides. Directors Julie Mayfield and Bob Wagner also met with DEQ staff to discuss more about the ways MountainTrue and the agency can work together.

Our Environment is Good for the Economy

In case you missed it, a new report shows that outdoor recreation is a powerful driver of the economy. The Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Economy Report shows the outdoor recreation industry generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending, directly supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates $125 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Yet another reason to get outside and enjoy the beauty of WNC!


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.

MT Raleigh Report | April 18, 2017 — Wait, Then Hurry Up

MT Raleigh Report | April 18, 2017 — Wait, Then Hurry Up

The General Assembly has picked up speed in recent weeks, following the passage of the recent HB2-related legislation. Last week, Legislators had a short week before heading out of town for a spring break. They return today, April 18th, and will rush headlong towards “crossover”— the deadline for most bills to be passed by at least one chamber in order to be considered for the rest of the session.

When the post-crossover dust settles, look for another regulatory reform bill to come out of the House, as well as, perhaps, a compromise renewable-energy bill that Senior Advisor to Speaker Moore (and former WNC legislator) Mitch Gillespie has been trying to piece together since last fall. Gillespie has his work cut out for him. The House GOP caucus is deeply divided on renewable energy with some members supporting it as an important 21st-Century job creator, particularly in rural areas. Other GOP members oppose regulatory incentives for renewables, which they say drive up energy costs and protect the green-energy industry from having to compete with more traditional sources of energy.

Once crossover is complete, we can expect the budget process to also pick up speed. Lawmakers typically wait until early May when final revenue figures from the April tax season are in and they know how much money the state has to spend in the coming year. Tax cuts are almost certain to be included in the budget, but the size is still to be resolved between the Senate and House. Senate GOP leaders would like to see the cuts top out at $1 billion, while House Republicans favor more modest cuts totaling hundreds of millions. How Gov. Cooper will react to the tax reduction is still unclear – his budget priorities include significant investments in public education. If and how that spending will be squared with GOP tax cuts is anyone’s guess right now.

Top Enviro Cop Regan Gets Stamp of Approval

Before legislators left town, they wrapped up confirmation for Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan. A former staffer for the U.S. EPA as well as the Environmental Defense Fund, Regan earned a unanimous recommendation for confirmation from the Senate Agriculture, Environment committee, and, ultimately, unanimous approval from the Senate. Regan’s confirmation was received with a collective sigh of relief among his supporters, as there was some speculation that his strong environmental experience – and the fact that GOP lawmakers have so far approved all of Gov. Cooper’s appointments – might cause some GOP legislators to make an example out of Regan and reject his appointment. Former New Hanover County Rep. Susi Hamilton was also confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Natural & Cultural Resources.

Regulatory “Reform” Marches On

The regulatory reform bill, S131, which contains several troublesome provisions (including a doubling of the threshold for unmitigated destruction of streams) continues to move full steam ahead. The Senate voted last week to concur to the House changes to the bill, but one final vote is required. The Senate vote was mostly along party lines. Here is how the WNC delegation voted:

No: Terry Van Duyn

Yes: Deanna Ballard, Jim Davis, Warren Daniel, Ralph Hise, Chuck Edwards

High Hog Drama

There was high drama in the General Assembly last week over H467, Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies. The bill would limit compensatory damages available to plaintiffs in nuisance suits against agriculture and forestry operations. It is a response to numerous pending lawsuits against mega-hog processor Smithfield for impacts related to its hog production facilities. The week saw the bill brought up by the Speaker out of order, Republicans bickering amongst themselves about the bill and the process used to approve it,  as well as hog producers packing the House gallery. They watched as representatives approved an amendment preventing the bill from applying to current lawsuits and then sent the amended bill to the Senate. The prospects for the bill’s fate are unclear, but we’ll be watching.


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.

MT Raleigh Report | April 4, 2017 – Stream Dangers

MT Raleigh Report | April 4, 2017 – Stream Dangers

In this installment of MTRaleigh – Rumors, deal-making and legislating surrounding the repeal of HB2 sucked up much of the air at the General Assembly this past week. In this edition of MTRaleigh, we’ll look at the danger to streams posed by legislation moving through the legislature and give a quick overview of HB2 drama.

Stream Dangers

This year’s version of the Regulatory Reform bill is moving through the General Assembly at a pretty good clip. It has already passed the Senate and has been voted out of committee on the House side. We expect to see it on the House floor early in the week.

As you probably remember, these “reform” bills often mean rolling back or weakening environmental protections. This year is no different. Of particular concern are the sections on stream mitigation. The bill includes a provision that requires the state to formally request a change from the Army Corps of Engineers to double the length of stream damage (from 150 feet to 300 feet) before developers are required to pay into a fund that supports stream repair in other parts of the state to offset the damage their projects have. The bill would also completely eliminate mitigation requirements for intermittent streams. In addition to funding stream restoration, these rules also act as an important incentive for developers to limit the impact of their projects.

While some legislators called the current regulations overly burdensome, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr said that the flooding the state experienced during Hurricane Matthew demonstrates why the changes are bad policy.

“Just months after the worst recorded flood on the Neuse from Matthew the first bill that we’re doing with streams will ensure that we have exponentially higher risk from flooding,” Starr said during committee hearings.

HB2 Repeal, Reset, Redux?

Late Wednesday night GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper announced an agreement to repeal House Bill 2. On Thursday, both the GOP Senate and the GOP House approved the new legislation, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans voting against the compromise bill.  Governor Cooper signed the legislation Thursday afternoon.

To date, the HB2 debate has taken up an enormous amount of time and energy, delaying the legislature’s consideration of a number of other important but less high-profile issues. With the HB2 issue now settled, look for the General Assembly to go into overdrive on a wide range of other bills and issues – the budget, tax reform and energy policy among them.

The legislation approved last week:

  • Repeals House Bill 2 in its entirety
  • Reserves the authority to regulate bathrooms to the state, essentially returning to the status quo before Charlotte passed a 2016 ordinance allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity.
  • Enacts a moratorium on similar local ordinances until Dec. 1, 2020.

Gov. Cooper and business leaders – including the NC Chamber of Commerce – supported the new legislation, which reportedly will meet the requirements of the ACC, NCAA and the NBA to consider locating sporting events in North Carolina.

LGBT civil rights organizations, including Equality North Carolina, opposed the bill, arguing that it continues discrimination against transgender people. HB2 supporters also opposed the new bill, arguing that it abandons the privacy protections for women and children in the original legislation.

Hendersonville Rep. Chuck McGrady was deeply involved in the extensive negotiations on the HB2 compromise. You can find an interview with him on the issue here.

In other news of interest to WNC environmentalists –

State hosts public meeting in Asheville on Duke Energy’s coal ash plans

What to Know About Trump’s Order to Dismantle the Clean Power Plan

Despite renewable energy’s impressive gains, NC lawmakers move to limit it


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 — 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.