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.

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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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.