MT Raleigh Report: Update on Conservation Projects in the Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Update on Conservation Projects in the Budget

The legislature’s months-long debate of the new state budget is coming to an end, and there are some key Western North Carolina conservation investments at stake this year.

The budget process for the state’s biennial (AKA two-year) budget began in March, when Governor Roy Cooper delivered his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The House of Representatives followed with weeks of budget meetings that culminated in approval of its version of the state’s $24 billion spending plan. In recent weeks, the Senate has developed its own version of the budget.

Now comes “conference” – the process the House and Senate use to reconcile their budgets and send a final version to the Governor for signature or veto.

Over the past few months, MountainTrue has been working with lawmakers to support a number of conservation projects that are now being discussed in conference. Specifically we are asking lawmakers to support funding to:

  • Allow the NC Department of Environmental Quality to investigate and clean up hazardous spills from unknown sources – as occurred recently in the Watauga River (included in the Senate budget, $200,000 one-time funding)

  • Improve public access to a popular recreation area in the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties (included in the Senate budget, $150,000)

  • Provide state funding to monitor popular WNC rivers and streams for E. coli and other pollutants that can make people sick (included in the Senate budget, $100,000)

  • Expand fishing and camping tourism with improvements to the French Broad River Paddle Trail in Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Madison counties (included in the Senate budget,  $100,000)

  • Improve fish habitat and hunting and fishing access by providing matching funds to remove the Ward’s Mill Dam on the Watauga River in Watauga County (Included in the Senate budget, $100,000)

  • Expand camping and fishing tourism with investment in the Watauga River Paddle Trail in Watauga County (Included in the Senate budget, $100,000)

MountainTrue – and our region – is fortunate to have a number of lawmakers who have been willing to support these projects. Thank you to Representatives Chuck McGrady, Josh Dobson, Kevin Corbin and Brian Turner for your help. On the Senate side, Senators Chuck Edwards and Deanna Ballard have been immensely helpful.

MountainTrue staff will travel to Raleigh next week for the last of this year’s monthly lobbying trips to support these budget items. Look for an update in the coming weeks about our trip, the final budget and its investments in Western North Carolina.


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: Crossover Week, Rate Hike Bill and Our Legislative Advocacy

MT Raleigh Report: Crossover Week, Rate Hike Bill and Our Legislative Advocacy

MountainTrue in Raleigh to speak with legislators on May 1. From left to right: Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan, Co-Director Bob Wagner, Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill, Development Director Adam Bowers and volunteer Robert Udashen.

Last week was “crossover week”, which might as well be “chaos week” in the legislature.

That’s because “crossover” refers to the legislature’s deadline for most bills to move from one chamber of the legislature to the other in order to remain eligible for consideration for the rest of the two-year legislative session. The official crossover deadline occurred last week, with both chambers pushing dozens of bills through the legislative process before the deadline kicked in.

As with all rules and deadlines at the General Assembly, there are a number of ways for lawmakers to get around the crossover rule. Gutting a bill that has passed one chamber and re-writing it to address a different issue altogether is a popular strategy. But for the most part, a bill that is subject to crossover but doesn’t meet the deadline dies a quick death.

Thus the mad scramble of crossover week.

Perhaps the most important bill with implications for the environment that passed in crossover week was SB559, which would remove the need for utilities to come before the NC Utilities Commission and the public on a yearly basis when rate increases are proposed. Instead, utilities would be able to get rate hikes approved for up to five years all at once.

Supporters of the bill argue that the NC Utilities Commission already has the power to approve rate hikes for future costs, and that the law would only make this power more explicit.

But a broad coalition of bill opponents – including environmental groups, business organizations, manufacturers and consumer groups – worry that multi-year rate plans will give them less input in the process the commission uses to set rates.

MountainTrue opposes the bill for this reason and more. SB559 reduces the opportunity for the public to have a say about rate hikes on a year-by-year basis and, by increasing the likelihood of the Utilities Commission considering rate hikes to pay for future costs, makes it harder to ensure that these costs are reasonable and prudent. Neighboring states have experienced this firsthand: In South Carolina, for instance, the Base Load Review Act empowered utilities to charge customers for large power plants before they were built. This resulted in customers being charged $37 million per month for the cost of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station before it was abandoned in 2017.

We are also concerned that SB559 will limit discussion on how much Duke investors – not consumers – should have to pay for the cost of cleaning up the company’s multi-billion dollar coal ash mess.

Unfortunately, the objections of so many interest groups did not prevent the Senate from approving the bill, which collected the support of most of its GOP majority as well as a small number of Democrats. Several Republicans also voted against the bill.

Among Western North Carolina legislators, Senator Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) voted against the bill; Senators Chuck Edwards (R – Henderson, Buncombe, Transylvania), Jim Davis (R – Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain) and Deanna Ballard (R – Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes) voted in support.

SB559 now moves on to the House, where its prospects for approval are less certain.

In other legislative news, MountainTrue staff and volunteers were in Raleigh on May 1 to talk to lawmakers about our legislative priorities, which include increased funding for the French Broad Paddle Trail and support for climate resilience planning in WNC.

Look for an update about these issues in an upcoming report, and as always, thanks for the support that makes our legislative advocacy in Raleigh possible!


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: It’s Road Trip Season!

MountainTrue Raleigh Report: It’s Road Trip Season!

MountainTrue staff were able to thank the Department of Environmental Quality’s Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson (far left) and Secretary Michael Regan (center) in person for their recent historic decision to require Duke Energy to dig up all of its remaining coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

This time of year, protecting Western North Carolina’s shared places means taking road trips to Raleigh.

With the General Assembly now running full steam, MountainTrue staff are making regular visits to the state capitol to speak up for our mountains. We made our second visit of the year last week to have conversations with a number of key legislators as well as the leadership at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

At the General Assembly, we had good visits with Representatives John Ager, Kevin Corbin, Josh Dobson, Susan Fisher, Cody Henson, Chuck McGrady and Ray Russell, as well as Senators Deanna Ballard and Chuck Edwards.  Thank you to all of these lawmakers for making time for us.

Much of our conversation focused on funding for a variety of conservation efforts in Western North Carolina. These include improvements to the French Broad Paddle Trail, creating permanent public access to the Green River and removing a dam on the Watauga River to improve water quality and fish habitat  improving public recreation and reducing flooding.

Another priority for MountainTrue this year is to increase the state’s investment in water quality testing in our region. While North Carolina regularly tests its beach waters to protect public health, there is no comparable effort for WNC’s rivers and streams. This is true despite our region’s rapidly growing population and the increasing number of tourists who now swim, paddle, wade and tube in our untested rivers and streams. Unfortunately, these waters are often of lower quality than we’d like them to be. In 2017 and 2018, more than three-quarters of the streams monitored by MountainTrue did not pass the EPA safe water quality standard for E. coli at some point in the year.

We’re also calling on lawmakers to re-establish the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) Program, which before its demise reduced bacterial pollution by identifying pollution associated with straight pipes and failing septic systems in Western North Carolina. Between 2002 and 2010, the program surveyed 28 separate areas, visited 13,379 homes and identified 2,016 violations.

Then at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), we had a brief few moments with Sec. Michael Regan and were able to give him two thank you cards – one for him and another for Gov. Cooper – signed by MountainTrue staff for the administration’s recent, historic decision to require Duke Energy to dig up all remaining coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

Then we got down to business, with conversations about MountainTrue’s legislative agenda, concerns about several water quality issues in the North Toe and Green Rivers and some ideas about improving the process the Department uses to engage and educate the public during public meetings.  Overall we’ve found that Department officials have consistently been willing to listen to our concerns and, in most cases, work with us to find shared solutions.

MountainTrue’s next Raleigh road trip is scheduled for early May. If you would like to plug in and help support our policy agenda, please contact our Advocacy & Communications Associate Eliza Stokes at eliza@mountaintrue.org. And as always, thanks for the support that makes our legislative advocacy efforts possible!


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: What’s on Deck for the Environment?

MT Raleigh Report: What’s on Deck for the Environment?

This week in Raleigh, lawmakers are beginning what is likely to be a long, drawn-out political tug-of-war between newly empowered Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and a GOP legislature that has been reduced in size and influence.

And a good deal of the push and pull will be over the environment.

Cooper, of course, is feeling his oats after the November election reduced the number of GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate to numbers too modest to override his vetoes. For the first time since the election of 2016, both sides will be forced to negotiate and compromise in order to get anything done.

Republican leaders are talking a good game of cooperation and bipartisanship. Whether both sides can come together to come up with bipartisan solutions remains to be seen.

When and if lawmakers do get down to negotiating, they are likely to have a number of major environmental issues to wrestle with, including:

Open Space Trust Funds – Two of the state’s most important conservation funds, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreational Trust Fund, are caught up in a nasty political battle over executive power and gubernatorial appointments. The question of who appoints the members of these and other state boards and commissions has put them at risk of extinction by GOP lawmakers looking for ways to force Cooper to make concessions on his appointment authority. Look for this fight to continue well into the 2019 session.

Water Protection – Last year, the General Assembly was roiled by the issue of what to do about the presence of “emerging contaminants” like GenX in the state’s drinking water. The issue dominated two separate special sessions, the regular summer session, and spilled over to the November elections – when a number of lawmakers in the Cape Fear region got pounded by their opponents and voters for being too slow to act on water quality protection. Look for Cooper to renew his call for substantial new investments in the Department of Environmental Quality to protect drinking water supplies. This is likely to remain a budget priority this year.

Storm Preparedness – After Hurricane Florence, Cooper released a disaster recovery plan that included substantial new investment in wetland protection, coastal resilience, hog farm buyouts and other measures to get North Carolina ready for “the next big one.” To date, lawmakers have funded traditional recovery efforts – with relief for farmers topping all expenditures – but have not invested much in the way of preparedness. With the six-month anniversary of Florence in March during the budget process, our hope is that the legislature will better address preparedness and adaptation.

Here at MountainTrue, we are refining our legislative priorities for lawmakers and will share them in our next update. Until then, thanks for supporting our advocacy efforts in Raleigh!


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: The 2019 General Assembly Begins, Sort Of

MT Raleigh Report: The 2019 General Assembly Begins, Sort Of

Legislators were in Raleigh for a day last week to open the 2019 session of the North Carolina General Assembly. Surrounded by their families, lawmakers took their oaths of office, elected their officers – and then promptly recessed. They will reconvene Jan. 30 and meet weekly until they complete their work some time later this year.

Quick reminder: in odd-numbered years, North Carolina lawmakers begin their work in January and, historically, complete it some time in the summer. In even-numbered years, session begins in May. Because North Carolina does not limit the length of the session, there is no hard deadline for completing their work.

As expected, GOP Speaker Tim Moore of Cleveland County relied on his party’s majority in the House to become speaker for a third, two-year term. In the Senate, GOP Sen. Phil Berger of Rockingham was elected to lead the Senate for the fifth consecutive session.

Moore also announced a few key committee appointments, two of which have important implications for Western North Carolina conservation and environmental advocates. Complete House committee assignments are not expected until late January.

Henderson County GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady was re-appointed as co-chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the development of the state’s $24 billion state budget. First elected in 2010, McGrady – former national president of the Sierra Club – has promoted a pro-environment policy agenda while also becoming a trusted member of the House GOP caucus and Moore’s leadership team. While some environmental advocates would like McGrady to be a stronger critic of the GOP legislature’s environmental record, there is no question that he has sponsored a number of key environmental bills, stopped or improved many harmful environmental bills, and boosted funding for open space conservation and other environmental investments. McGrady’s return to the appropriations leadership will be his last, as he is widely expected to retire after the 2019-20 legislative term.

WNC has another (rising) appropriations chair in GOP Rep. Josh Dobson, whose district includes Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties. Dobson has quietly developed a reputation as a thoughtful, accessible, no-ego lawmaker with considerable policy expertise in health and human services. His promotion to full appropriations chair could give McGrady a natural ally in the appropriations give-and-take within the House GOP caucus, in negotiations with the Senate and with Governor Roy Cooper.

In the Senate, committee appointments were announced late last week. Notable for environmentalists is Henderson County GOP Sen. Chuck Edwards’ appointment as co-chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, which develops the Senate’s spending plan for all state environmental conservation programs. Should McGrady and Edwards team up, they could direct considerable resources to WNC. Also notable: WNC GOP Sen. Ralph Hise will chair the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which reviews all tax and fee changes. And WNC GOP Sen. Jim Davis returns to his leadership spot as senior chair of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation funding.

Here at MountainTrue, we are finalizing our legislative agenda for 2019 and scheduling visits to Raleigh throughout the year to speak up for Western North Carolina’s environment. Look for a detailed outline of our 2019 priorities in an upcoming MT Raleigh Report, and thank you for all your support for our policy work!


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: Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Raleigh (and WNC) After Last Week’s Election?

MT Raleigh Report: Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Raleigh (and WNC) After Last Week’s Election?

While the dust is still settling from last week’s election – with several state legislative races still too close to call – it’s clear that Republicans have lost their veto-proof majorities in either one or both chambers of the legislature.

Going into this year’s elections, the GOP held the House 75-45. The 2019 House will likely seat 65 Republicans and 55 Democrats when a new legislature arrives in January, although that split could change depending on how the recounts of three House races turn out. In the Senate, where Republicans held a 35-15 majority, the 2019 Senate breakdown right now is 29-21. Democrats picked up just enough seats to end the GOP supermajority there, assuming one recount continues to go their way.

Some thoughts about what this all means for state policy and WNC’s legislative delegation:

Gov. Roy Cooper had a good night. The reduction of GOP power in the General Assembly means Republicans in the legislature will have to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper – or pick off enough Democrats to help override his veto. After eight years in the political wilderness, though, Democrats will likely stick with Cooper and force Republican leaders to negotiate with the governor – and check many legislators’ questionable environmental policies.

The 2019 session is likely to be very long. With power more evenly divided between Cooper and the GOP legislature, the two sides may cooperate on some issues. Disaster recovery might be one area, for example, where they could feel some political pressure to work together. But the two parties hold significantly different views on many basic issues, and both sides know that the 2020 election – as well as control of the 2021 redistricting process – is just around the corner.  So the safest bet is on a political stalemate. If that happens, the annual budget bill – perhaps the only legislation that must be approved in 2019 – is likely to become a mishmash of appropriations and policies, with lawmakers loading it up with proposals they know Cooper would otherwise veto as stand-alone legislation. In this scenario, the two sides would hunker down for long, drawn-out negotiations that may delay budget approval and the end of the session well into the fall.

Funding for environmental protection, healthcare and education will be top issues in 2019. With GenX water contamination, flooding and water pollution from Hurricane Florence still in the news, Cooper will likely ask the legislature for substantial increases in funding for the state’s environmental protection agencies – something GOP leaders have been reluctant to do. Other remaining areas of disagreement include funding to move hog lagoons out of the floodplain and other conservation investments to make North Carolina more resilient. Cooper’s Hurricane Florence recovery plan calls for tens of millions of dollars in these investments. So far Republican leaders have not indicated their willingness to appropriate this funding.

The GOP supermajorities aren’t dead yet. The 2018 version of the General Assembly – complete with the GOP veto-proof majorities – is scheduled to be back in session on Nov. 27. Lawmakers are expected to take up another round of disaster recovery appropriations, though the details are still TBD. Implementing legislation for the four constitutional amendments approved by voters is also likely. Beyond that, the agenda for the November session is murky, though many in Raleigh expect legislative leaders to wield their soon-to-go authority widely before the 2019 legislature takes over.

Powerful people in 2019. GOP legislators will pick their leaders for the 2019 session some time after the November special session. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, both Republicans, seem likely to return to lead each chamber. Assuming this is the case, Henderson County GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady – already a key leader on House budget matters – could become more influential. That’s because his colleague, senior GOP budget leader Rep. Nelson Dollar (Wake) was defeated on Tuesday. Dollar’s loss could mean McGrady’s gain in authority; on the other hand, Dollar and McGrady were allies in many budget battles, both within the House GOP caucus and with the Senate. The break-up of their appropriations dream team could make it harder for McGrady to find already scarce GOP support for many of the environmental policies and programs he supports.

Among other WNC legislators, the already powerful GOP Senator Ralph Hise will likely play an even larger role in the GOP Senate, particularly on health and human services issues. The same goes for Rep. Josh Dobson, who will take up some of the slack on health issues left by Dollar’s departure. And with the Senate GOP caucus is now smaller in numbers, second-term GOP Senators Chuck Edwards of Henderson and Watauga County’s Deanna Ballard are well positioned to increase their influence.

Whatever happens in the coming months in Raleigh, MountainTrue will be there to keep you informed and to speak up for Western North Carolina. Thank you to all of our members and supporters who make our advocacy efforts in the state capitol possible.


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.