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.

MountainTrue Raleigh Report: Florence Disaster Recovery Funding, Climate Resilience for WNC

MountainTrue Raleigh Report: Florence Disaster Recovery Funding, Climate Resilience for WNC

Hurricane Florence nears the east coast of the United States on Sept. 12. (Photo credit: NOAA Satellites)

On October 8, the North Carolina General Assembly took less than a day to earmark close to $400 million in Hurricane Florence disaster recovery funding. Lawmakers also shifted another $450 million into a disaster recovery fund with a promise to use it in the near future for additional Florence recovery efforts.

The legislature’s action came swiftly in a bipartisan vote that legislative leaders hailed as historically fast and generous.

That it was done quickly is beyond debate.

Whether the legislation is sufficient to address disaster victims’ immediate needs, or the long-term challenges storms like Hurricanes Florence and Michael pose to the state, is another matter.

For starters, let’s remember that initial estimates put the total damage caused by Florence at more than Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew combined. And that roughly one million households – or 26 percent of all North Carolina households – have been affected by the storm.

We should also keep in mind that scientists are now confident that the unprecedented havoc Florence wreaked is the new normal, as the reality of climate change asserts itself in increasingly dangerous weather patterns across our state.

Given the size of Florence’s impact and the risk of future storms, it’s no wonder that in his recovery plan, Gov. Roy Cooper identified more than $3.7 billion in unmet needs after private and federal disaster recovery is accounted for. Cooper recommended investing $1.5 billion to address this need – including the initial down payment of $750 million he asked lawmakers to appropriate.

On paper, lawmakers’ $800 million disaster appropriation appears to go above and beyond Cooper’s request. In fact, their investment is much more modest – $400 million, most of which is matching funds necessary to draw down federal assistance. The remaining $400 million is set aside in the new state disaster fund that is not available for recovery until and unless the General Assembly votes to spend it. Nor is the legislature required to do so – it can simply leave the funding where it is or vote to use it for non-disaster needs.

Republican leaders insist that they will open up the state’s coffers as the state’s disaster needs become clearer. They reasonably point out that the state is still assessing Florence’s full impact and that they will be back in Raleigh for yet another special session right after the November elections.

Here’s hoping they keep their word. With so many hurting from Florence and with so much to do to prevent similar catastrophes, we would have preferred a bolder approach. The need to provide additional housing assistance for Florence victims, for example, is immediate and will not diminish in coming weeks.

Slightly less pressing but just as obvious is the need to make North Carolina stronger and safer before the next storm. It is long since time to move hog farms out of eastern North Carolina flood zones. The state should also move quickly to help people who live in flood zones – many of whom are on limited incomes – to find safe homes away from rivers and streams that flooded during Matthew and flooded again during Florence.

Gov. Cooper’s recovery plan included immediate investment in these efforts and others that would make North Carolina safer, cleaner and more sustainable. Sadly, the disaster aid bill approved earlier this month does little to make the state more prepared for the next storm.

 

And What About Western NC?

 

While Western North Carolina was largely spared by this season’s storms, they should encourage those of us who live here to consider the lessons they pose for our region. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that many of us were threatened by wildfires, flooding and mudslides that destroyed too many homes and took too many lives.

For starters, this year’s storms urge us to consider how we can make our communities safer and more resilient. The General Assembly’s investment in landslide mapping for WNC counties is a good example of the kind of preparation we need. The fact that approval of this funding came two years after Hurricane Matthew – and in the same month that landslides destroyed at least 30 homes and left five people dead here – only demonstrates how much we need to speed up our work on preparedness and safety.

Particular attention is needed in those areas of Western North Carolina where preserved open space meets human development. It’s along these borders, for example, that wildfires pose the greatest danger to people and property. Preparing for bigger storms also requires that we review our stormwater systems and reassess our assumptions about flood risk to make sure we are prepared for worse storm events to occur much more frequently.

And really, once and for all, let’s end the ridiculous debates about whether climate change is “real.” This tedious argument does nothing to help us as a state and is an insult to the many thousands of North Carolinians who lost their homes and loved ones this fall.

The sad reality is that Florence and Michael are just the latest in a series of wake up calls that too many of our leaders have slept through for too long. We owe it to those hurt by these storms to wake up and prepare, now, for the next ones.


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 Legislature Overrides More Vetoes, and Some Good News

MT Raleigh Report: The Legislature Overrides More Vetoes, and Some Good News

On July 27, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed legislation that alters state ballot language for the constitutional amendments voters will consider this fall. The legislation had been approved by the General Assembly a few days before. Cooper also vetoed legislation that prevents a Supreme Court candidate who recently switched his party affiliation from having any party label next to his name on the ballot.

Last week, the legislature returned to override the governor’s vetoes – in a single Saturday session.

And then, this week, Cooper announced his plans to go to court to stop two of the constitutional amendments voters are scheduled to consider in November. The proposed amendments would take away the governor’s authority to appoint judges, regulators, board members and other state officials, and transfer that power to the legislature.

In addition, Clean Air Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the NAACP filed a separate lawsuit to stop amendments on the ballot that they say threaten voting rights and restructure government by usurping powers intended for the executive branch. A spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger called the lawsuits “absurd”, saying they are intended to take away a voter’s right to choose how they want to be governed.

Here at MountainTrue, we’re still wading through these arguments and weighing the impact of the amendments on WNC’s environment and communities. We welcome your thoughts about the amendments, and whether (and how) environmentalists should support or oppose them.

And Now the Good News

Remember the state budget? You know the one – $24 billion for the new fiscal year, which started July 1?

While education funding and a living wage for state employees – and GenX water pollution – got most of the attention during the budget debate, there were two items of particular importance to WNC that you may not have heard so much about. And both are items those of us at MountainTrue are particularly proud of.

First, the General Assembly earmarked $3 million for landslide hazard mapping in Western North Carolina. Knowing where landslides may happen can be a matter of life and death. For proof, look no further than the landslides in Polk County that killed three people earlier this year.

At MountainTrue, we made landslide hazard mapping part of our legislative agenda more than three years ago. Our hope was that after Hurricane Matthew hit eastern North Carolina in 2015 and fires raged in Western North Carolina in 2016, lawmakers in Raleigh would turn their attention to disaster preparedness and might be willing to restore funding for landslide hazard mapping that was cut in 2011.

Well, it took a bit longer than we thought it would, but the legislature finally came around this spring when lawmakers included landslide hazard mapping in their final budget. Big thanks go out to Rep. Chuck McGrady, who got behind this funding three years ago and helped us keep pushing it. (For the record, McGrady also opposed cutting the funding in 2011.)

The result: local governments, developers and homeowners will soon have crucial information that will lead to more sustainable development and, hopefully, save lives.

The other budget item is smaller but may be crucial to protecting WNC’s trout fishing industry, which is worth about $383 million annually to the region’s economy.

Whirling disease is caused by the microscopic parasite Myxobolus cerebralis; it damages cartilage and skeletal tissue in trout, causing them to swim in a corkscrew pattern. If you love to fish for trout in WNC – or make your living helping others who do – whirling disease is bad news. It’s been found in the Watauga, and there is anecdotal evidence that it’s in other WNC rivers and streams as well.

The state is doing an exhaustive study of the disease, but the final results won’t be in for several years. So this year, MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill – who also happens to be a former professional fly fishing guide – got to talking about trout and whirling disease with Sen. Deanna Ballard. Ballard represents much of the Watauga River basin and knows how much trout fishing means to her district’s economy and way of life.

With Ballard’s help, an appropriation of $20,000 got tucked into North Carolina’s budget for MountainTrue to do a study to see if the DNA of Myxobolus cerebralis can be found in WNC’s waters. If the DNA shows up, it won’t be definitive proof of whirling disease, but we think it would be a strong enough sign to convince lawmakers like Ballard to act now to combat the disease before it gets out of hand. Even better, the study can be done quickly – in time for the 2019 legislature to consider the results and act on them.

These examples are a great reminder of why MountainTrue has a permanent presence in Raleigh. Finding success in the capital requires a long-term commitment to building support for good ideas – like landslide hazard mapping – and enough familiarity with the people and politics in the legislature to take advantage of opportunities like the whirling disease study when they arise.

And of course, having legislators like McGrady and Ballard who are willing to help doesn’t hurt either!


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: Final Update on the Farm Bill

MT Raleigh Report: Final Update on the Farm Bill

Those of you who receive MountainTrue’s legislative updates know that we’ve been mobilizing people across the region in recent weeks against the Farm Act, SB711. This legislation includes drastic new limitations on citizens’ rights to protect their homes and their health against large agricultural industrial operations like hog and chicken plants.

The GOP-controlled legislature approved SB711 along largely partisan lines a few weeks ago. On June 25, Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill, citing its impact on the environment and its limitations on property rights.

You can read more about the problems with this legislation here and here.

MountainTrue Co-Director Julie Mayfield states:

“With SB711, the North Carolina General Assembly has put the interests of large corporations above the interests of communities and homeowners. This has never been how things have been done in Western North Carolina.”

Despite overwhelming grassroots opposition to this bill, the legislature voted to override Cooper’s veto of SB711. Below is a list of WNC legislators and how they voted on the override. (Remember: those who voted FOR the override voted to support the bill. Those who voted AGAINST the override voted to oppose it).

We encourage you to take a moment to see how your lawmaker voted on this critical issue.

And a big thanks to all of you who helped us mobilize support against this bill – we hope you will continue to join us in speaking up for WNC’s environment and the health of the people who live here.

WNC Members of the NC Senate who supported SB711 by voting to override Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Deanna Ballard (R-Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga)

Jim Davis (R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain)

Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson, Buncombe, Transylvania)

Ralph Hise (R-Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey)

WNC Members of the NC Senate who opposed SB711 by voting to uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe)

WNC Members of the NC House of Representatives who supported SB711 by voting to override Gov. Cooper’s veto:

Mike Clampitt (R-Haywood, Jackson, Swain)

Kevin Corbin (R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon)

Josh Dobson (R-Avery, McDowell, Mitchell)

Cody Henson (R-Henderson, Polk, Transylvania)

Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe, Watauga)

Michele Presnell (R-Haywood, Madison, Yancey)

WNC Members of the NC House of Representatives who opposed SB711 by voting to uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto:

John Ager (D-Buncombe)

Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe)

Brian Turner (D-Buncombe)

Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke)

Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson)


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.