MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

Sep. 1, 2020

Members of the General Assembly return to Raleigh tomorrow for yet another short – very short – two-day session. While Governor Cooper released an ambitious package of budget priorities including pandemic response proposals and bond measures last week, lawmakers are not expected to take up much of those plans. Instead, look for the legislature to focus on a more limited expenditure of some portion of the state’s still-unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds, including a bump in unemployment benefits and new investments in rural broadband to support the rise of online schooling.

For our part, MountainTrue has joined a coalition of environmental and economic justice organizations in calling for lawmakers and Governor Cooper to support substantial new assistance for North Carolinians facing utility shutoffs as a result of the pandemic. The Governor recently announced $175 million in funding “to support rental and utility payments and prevent evictions for those with a demonstrated need.” Unfortunately, more than one million North Carolina residential utility accounts now owe ​at least $226 million in unpaid utility bills as of July 31st – far exceeding the portion of the $175 million that is likely to be allocated specifically for utility bill assistance. Without additional assistance, thousands of North Carolinians will lose access to clean water and electricity as the weather grows colder.

With the election just around the corner, the General Assembly will likely complete its work this week and adjourn, officially ending its 2019-2020 term. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers are necessarily done for the year. There is already speculation that if Congress approves additional pandemic-related legislation this fall, Governor Cooper will call the General Assembly back into session before the new year. If Congress does not act, a return to Raleigh may also be required to appropriate the remainder of the state’s federal aid. Under current rules, North Carolina must spend all federal COVID-19 relief funding by the end of December or return it to the federal government.

Vote For The Environment & Voter Registration Information

The fate of environmental issues in North Carolina will be heavily impacted by the upcoming election. As such, we highly encourage all of our supporters to register to vote, create a voting plan and research the environmental positions of the candidates on your sample ballot as soon as possible.

The deadline to update your voter registration online or by mail is October 9. Online voter registration is now available and free through the NC Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) here. You can also download a registration form for yourself or a near relative here to fill out and mail to your local Board of Elections, or pick up a form directly from your local Board of Elections office. Or, you can register to vote and vote at the same time if you vote in person during Early Voting, which will occur between October 15 and October 31.

If you’re registered or unsure if your registration is current, you can check your voter registration status, find your polling place and see your sample ballot using the NC voter lookup tool here.

As always, thank you for your support of our work in Raleigh to stand up for Western North Carolina’s environment. Stay tuned for more updates from us on activities in the legislature in the coming months.


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: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly completed most of its work for the 2020 session – and among the flurry of late night meetings and last minute bills that are typical of the end of session, there was some good news for Western North Carolina’s rivers and streams. Legislation approved by both chambers of the General Assembly included two modest but important appropriations: $200,000 to help the Department of Environmental Quality better respond to pollution spills, and $100,000 to MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing efforts focused on E. coli pollution.

Both appropriations occurred because they were on MountainTrue’s legislative agenda, and because we’ve worked closely with our legislators for the past two years to secure them.

The funding for DEQ goes back to a petroleum spill in the Watauga River several years ago that MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper responded to and worked to resolve for months. At the time, spill response by DEQ was delayed because the source of the pollution could not be determined, and DEQ only provided funding to clean up gas tank spills if their source was known. In the absence of any other funds, DEQ did not have the resources to respond quickly, making a bad situation worse.

MountainTrue met with DEQ senior management on the issue, and then began advocating for a state appropriation to DEQ to clean up spills of undetermined origin. After meetings with WNC legislators Rep. Chuck McGrady, Sen. Chuck Edwards and Sen. Deanna Ballard in 2018 and 2019, the funding was included in the legislature’s final budget. Unfortunately, it was not allocated due to disagreement about the state’s spending plan between the legislature and Governor Cooper.

This year, however, the appropriation was included in separate legislation – again with the crucial support of Rep. McGrady, Sen. Edwards and Sen. Ballard. Governor Cooper is expected to sign this legislation into law.

The same bill also includes $100,000 for MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing in the French Broad, as well as other WNC rivers and streams. Our water sampling has brought widespread attention to water quality issues in the French Broad, and the public health impact of bacterial pollution.

E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer and septic leaks and stormwater runoff — especially runoff from animal agricultural operations with substandard riparian buffers. E. coli can indicate the presence of other more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The state’s investment will allow MountainTrue to do more sophisticated analysis and help us pinpoint the sources of E. coli and related pathogens.

We won these victories because you, our members, made it possible for MountainTrue to fight for WNC’s communities and environment in the legislature. We are the only WNC environmental organization with a permanent presence at the legislature – and that’s because of you all! 

As for the rest of the summer, lawmakers are expected back sometime before July 11 to take up some unfinished business, including veto overrides, before recessing for the rest of the summer. They are scheduled to return in early September to address additional funding for the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll keep you posted when there are more updates. Until then, we are grateful to be able to celebrate these victories with you!

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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.

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

With unemployment growing, the economy slowing and North Carolina’s tax revenues plummeting, legislators have made some key decisions that will shape how they are likely to deal with the state’s mounting budget challenges.

While the state’s revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year won’t be in until the July 15 tax filing deadline, budget analysts expect revenues to be short $1.6 billion for FY19-20 and another $2.5 billion for FY20-21. Together, that is about an eight percent hit to the state’s $24 billion annual budget.

Complicating the budget picture is a long list of unknowns, including:

  • Just how big are the deficits North Carolina is facing? So far lawmakers are using estimates. Actual revenues won’t be known until July 15 – two weeks after the new state fiscal year is supposed to begin on July 1.
  • Can federal COVID-19 relief money be used to fill the state’s budget hole? North Carolina has $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money in reserve; state lawmakers are hoping Congress will give them permission to use those funds to address the state’s budget shortfall. But if and when that might happen is anyone’s guess. Complicating matters: under current federal law, all of the state’s federal COVID-19 funding must be spent by December 31, 2020.
  • Will Congress provide more help to states? The US House of Representatives recently approved a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide billions to help states balance their budgets, but support in the US Senate is lukewarm.

Look for Governor Cooper to wait until midsummer to spell out his budget plans.

For their part, GOP leaders at the legislature have opted not to produce a FY 2020-21 budget at all; they will leave the current budget (approved all the way back in 2017) in place. Instead, lawmakers in both chambers have agreed to approve 18 separate bills with a variety of appropriations for a discreet list of projects and programs. Their priorities include capital projects at various state universities and funds to address enrollment growth at public schools. The money for these bills comes from a number of sources, including unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds and monies from other sources that are expected to be unspent when the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.

After completing these bills in the next few weeks, legislative leaders plan to go home. That would appear to leave balancing the budget to Governor Cooper – unless Congress gives the state a windfall of federal cash to balance the state budget. If that happens, it is unlikely that the state’s budget writers will allow Governor Cooper to decide how such a large amount of money is spent, and they would likely reconvene to appropriate those dollars. If help from Congress does not arrive, lawmakers also have the option of staying at home and leaving the politically difficult task of balancing the budget to Governor Cooper, just a few months before his reelection.

The lack of a budget development process at the legislature is a mixed bag for the environment. For starters, it leaves organizations like MountainTrue with no way to engage lawmakers about much-needed investments to protect our natural resources. On the other hand, it avoids – or at least postpones – the steep cuts that the legislature would likely propose for regulatory agencies that protect our air and water if they attempted to draw up a new budget.

As the legislative session continues, MountainTrue will continue to track the budget process and look for opportunities to fund some of the WNC projects we have promoted in the past – while also opposing any effort to cut state agencies that protect our water and air from polluters. We appreciate your continued support for this work and invite you to follow our policy work in Raleigh on all of our social media outlets. 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.

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

May 20, 2020

The North Carolina General Assembly restarted its 2020 session this week, so it’s a good time for a quick update about what’s going on in Raleigh.

After much back and forth about how the session should proceed, the House and Senate Republican leadership decided to open the session this week and work continuously through the beginning of July, when they hope to adjourn. Previously, there had been some talk of meeting briefly this month, then recessing until late June.

The to-do list of lawmakers is likely to be fairly modest. The early weeks of the session will include debates about policy changes and appropriations necessary to hold the November elections safely. Local election officials say they need more money, and that voters need more education about absentee ballots to vote safely. Voting rights organizations have also asked lawmakers to loosen voting restrictions in order to increase access to the ballot and protect public health. Local bills, as well as bills in conference leftover from the 2019 session, may also move.

But the major work of the session will be the FY2020-21 budget – prospects for which could not be murkier. Budget forecasters are predicting a shortfall of several billion dollars as a result of the pandemic. Look for the House, the Senate and the Governor’s offices to agree on a “consensus forecast” for the state’s FY21 revenues late this week or early next. Lawmakers use this forecast as the basis of their budget decisions, and most budget watchers expect it to include a shortfall of $1–$4 billion for the coming fiscal year. In a budget totaling $24 billion, making up a shortfall that large could mean steep budget cuts.

However, how much of that shortfall lawmakers will have to cut their way out of is still very unclear. For starters, the state has more than a billion in reserves that can be used to address the shortfall. Lawmakers have also reserved $2 billion of federal COVID relief dollars, in hopes that Congress will give states the ability to use it to address their budget deficits – an option favored by many Republicans in the US Senate. In the US House, the bill approved last week and backed by Democrats could bring as much as $16 billion to North Carolina. If and when Congress acts on any or all of these proposals will have a significant impact on North Carolina’s budget.

Then there’s the politics of the North Carolina budget, which must be signed into law by Governor Cooper. Last year, the Governor and Republican lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on the budget. Whether the two sides will be able to reach a deal this year – just a few months before an election – remains an open question.

That’s where things stand in Raleigh right now – and of course, it’s all subject to change at any moment. Keep an eye out for future updates about the legislative session and what it means for 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: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report, COVID-19 Edition: What To Expect From NC Lawmakers This Week

MT Raleigh Report, COVID-19 Edition: What To Expect From NC Lawmakers This Week

When the North Carolina General Assembly convenes its 2020 session tomorrow, it will do so in a state – and a world – that was unimaginable when lawmakers finished their work for 2019 just a few short months ago. 

Back then, legislators were looking forward to a 2020 session fueled by a robust budget surplus, made unusually large as a result of last year’s budget stalemate that left hundreds of millions of unallocated dollars in the state’s General Fund. 

That, of course, was all before the impact of COVID-19 on millions of North Carolinians and thousands of North Carolina businesses. Now, legislators can expect a reduction in state tax revenue of $1 billion or more and debates about how to respond to the pandemic, when and how to restart the state’s economy and what to do about the state’s suddenly frail finances. 

The Rundown

With the legislative session beginning tomorrow, here is a quick rundown of where things stand in Raleigh and what MountainTrue’s priorities are for the session.

  • Despite limits on public gatherings across the state, the legislature will go into session with strict limits on the public’s in-person access to legislative proceedings. 
  • Lawmakers are increasing electronic access to committee meetings and other legislative gatherings so that the public can monitor the process. You can access those by clicking on the audio icon for the committee or legislative body you wish to tune into here.
  • Credentialed media will also have in-person access to the General Assembly.
  • Legislative leaders hope the session will be very short, perhaps a week or two, and focused only on COVID-19 bills and appropriations.
  • Bills leftover from the 2019 session or new issues unrelated to the pandemic are unlikely to be considered.
  • The COVID-19 agenda is still developing – a House Select Committee on COVID-19 began making its recommendations last week, and more are expected to become public before the session begins.
  • Governor Cooper will also send a list of COVID-19 requests to the legislature for consideration. 
  • The North Carolina Senate has not met formally to develop recommendations for the session, but is expected to have its own list of pandemic response proposals. 
  • Once lawmakers complete their work, they are expected to adjourn and reconvene some time midsummer. 

The legislature is not likely to take up the state budget during this spring session. The delay of the state’s tax filing deadline to July 15 means that lawmakers won’t have an accurate estimate of revenues for the 2020-2021 fiscal year until later in July. 

Despite the tax filing delay, budget analysts in both the Governor’s office and the legislature predict that the pandemic’s impact on the state budget will be significant – in the range of a $1 billion to $2 billion reduction in state revenues for FY2020-2021. 

The state’s overall budget totals about $24 billion annually. While the state has considerable fiscal reserves, the reduction in tax income and the cost of the COVID-19 response and recovery will result in significant budget reductions for the coming fiscal year. Click here to view a recent presentation by Governor Cooper’s budget director about the pandemic’s impact on state finances. 

MountainTrue’s Priorities 

As the only WNC environmental group with a permanent presence in Raleigh, MountainTrue will be active during both the upcoming spring session and the summer session expected later this year. For starters, we will be on the watch for any effort to roll back clean air, clean water or clean energy laws. In WNC, so much of our economy depends on our natural resources, which must be protected if we are to bounce back from COVID-19. Towards that end, we will also oppose any effort to balance the budget with cuts to state agencies that enforce environmental rules. These agencies are already woefully understaffed and underfunded after years of budget reductions. 

MountainTrue will also continue to support key investments to protect WNC water quality and increase public access to our rivers. We have just finished a round of teleconference meetings with two key WNC legislators who have power over budget appropriations: Rep. Chuck McGrady and Sen. Chuck Edwards. Topping our list of priorities are funds for water monitoring and pollution detection for WNC rivers and streams, as well as new investments in public access along the French Broad, Green and Watauga Rivers. While these investments may not seem pressing, outdoor recreation will likely be one of the earliest, safest and most popular forms of recreation available when the pandemic abates. It’s important that our region has improved infrastructure, both for our residents and visitors, to boost our local economy when widespread recreation is safe again. 

Taking a step back, we know that many of our supporters face extremely difficult challenges as a result of COVID-19. We also realize that many of you may not have the time and energy to think about North Carolina politics and policies and their impact on our environment and our economy right now. And that’s okay. That’s why MountainTrue is here: to be a permanent, trusted, informed voice for our region and its natural resources. We thank all of you who provide the support that allows us to do this important work.

Do you value the Raleigh Report? It takes a lobbyist and staff expertise to bring this resource to you. Please consider making a donation to support this work and protect the places we share:  https://mountaintrue.org/join


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.

Celebrate 50 Years of Earth Day with MountainTrue

Celebrate 50 Years of Earth Day with MountainTrue

Celebrate 50 Years of Earth Day with MountainTrue

As social creatures, we need to maintain our connections and find new ways to lean on each other during hard times. As creatures of nature, we need to connect with our forests, our rivers and the plants and animals we share this planet with. Today more than ever, we appreciate how important clean water and healthy forests are to our mountain communities.

Hikers like to say, ‘the trail gives you what you need’. I’ve experienced that personally and watched it play out in the lives of others. So regardless of whether you are looking for community, solitude, a challenge, stillness, simplicity, therapy, inspiration, resilience, or reassurance… there’s a good chance you’ll find it in the woods.

Jennifer Pharr Davis

Owner, Blue Ridge Hiking Company and 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year

But our forests and rivers would not have been the wonderful sanctuaries Jennifer describes had they not been protected by people like you. Together, we have built a legacy of action to be proud of. You stopped timber companies from clearcutting in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. You kept the pressure on Duke Energy until they were ordered to clean up their coal ash pits and move their toxic ash to lined landfills where they will no longer pollute our rivers.

When you stand with MountainTrue, you fight for our environment. Will you stand alongside MountainTrue this Earth Day?

The fight to protect the health of our forests, rivers, and mountain communities is more important than ever. We ask that you donate today so we can continue to protect the places we share.

Happy 50th Earth Day, and thank you for being part of MountainTrue and making this work 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.