MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution


At MountainTrue, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about water – how to keep it clean, where and how it’s being polluted and how to clean it up.

That’s true not only home in Western North Carolina, but also in Raleigh, where clean water initiatives are always at the top of our legislative agenda.

When it comes to water pollution, E. coli is a huge part of the problem. E. coli is a type of bacteria that typically lives in the stomachs of humans and animals, and exposure to it in water can cause intestinal infection, diarrhea and even kidney failure.

Our Water Team conducts regular water quality monitoring of the French Broad, Green, Watauga, Broad, Elk, Hiwassee, New and Nottely Rivers. On the French Broad River in particular, our data showed a sharp increase in E. coli levels several years ago – but while we knew E. coli was spiking, we couldn’t say for certain where it was coming from. We needed funding to do more sensitive eDNA testing and determine the major sources of E. coli in the river.

That’s when our lobbying effort in Raleigh kicked in.

The French Broad River flows through a good portion of Senator Chuck Edwards’ district, which includes Henderson and Transylvania counties and portions of Buncombe County. Senator Edwards also chairs one of the Senate appropriations committees that deals with funding for natural resources. With his help and some effective lobbying, in 2018 the Senate included a $100,000 appropriation for water quality testing in the French Broad River.

This spring, the results of that testing made headlines across WNC: showing that the main source of E. coli in the French Broad River is agricultural runoff from cattle farms, followed by inadequate sewer, septic or wastewater treatment systems. MountainTrue shared this data to kick off a region-wide grassroots advocacy campaign to educate the public about E. coli pollution. And we’re asking our supporters to call on their elected officials to support funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments keep their pollution out of the river.

In Raleigh, we are combining this grassroots support with advocacy inside the legislative building to find more funding for clean water in Western North Carolina. We’re so appreciative of the support you and others provide to make our legislative advocacy possible. Thank you for being part of this important process!

For more information about our water testing efforts and advocacy, visit

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, every legislator’s vote counts the same.

But not all legislators are equal.

You don’t need to be a political scientist, for example, to know that in a Republican-controlled legislature, most GOP members are going to have more influence than their Democratic colleagues. But beyond party affiliation, seniority and committee assignments can tell you a lot about who can get what done in Raleigh.

So to help you keep track of WNC’s delegation, here’s a quick rundown on some of our region’s most senior members and the gavels they wield among the legislature’s several dozen legislative committees.

Dionne Delli-Gatti

But first – some good news. Last week Governor Roy Cooper announced that Dionne Delli-Gatti will replace Michael Regan as Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. Regan is now awaiting Senate approval of his appointment as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Delli-Gatti’s selection is welcome news for those of us concerned about clean air and water. A seasoned environmental professional, she most recently served at the Environmental Defense Fund as the Director of Southeast Climate and Energy following six years at the Atlanta EPA Regional office as Congressional and Governmental Liaison. Her environmental experience includes government service at the Ohio EPA and the City of Dallas. Kudos to Gov. Cooper for selecting Delli-Gatti, whose appointment must be confirmed by the North Carolina Senate.

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The MountainTrue Raleigh Report covers environmental politics and policy, with a focus on the issues that affect Western North Carolina.

Now let’s take a look at who is doing what on the environment and other issues among WNC’s legislative delegation.

On the environment, the conversation about WNC’s delegation has to start with Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County. Now in his third term, Edwards is the senior chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees all natural resources spending. He also co-chairs the committee that oversees most agriculture and environmental policy in North Carolina. Edwards is a proven leader and champion of several causes benefitting WNC’s environment, including being the force behind creating a new state park in Buncombe County and helping MountainTrue with several key clean water initiatives.

For depth and breadth of influence in the legislature, it would be hard to match Sen. Ralph Hise (Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties). After five terms in office, Hise is one of three co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving him a say in virtually every part of the state’s $24 billion budget. Hise’s familiarity with health policy and spending also makes him a key voice on health and human services issues.  As chair of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, he will play a central role in redrawing both legislative and Congressional districts this year.

If you have an interest in Western North Carolina public schools and universities, then get to know Senator Deanna Ballard (Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga and Wilkes counties). While just in her third term, Ballard is now the Senate’s key policymaker and appropriator on education – which easily accounts for well over half of the state’s annual spending.

With the departure of former Representative Chuck McGrady to retirement and former Rep. Josh Dobson – now North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner – WNC’s delegation in the state House lost a great deal of influence. The rest of the delegation’s lack of commensurate seniority means it will take a few years for the West to beef up its political muscle in the House. In the meantime, Rep. Tim Moffitt (Henderson County) helps lead the House ABC Committee – which oversees alcohol laws. Rep. Mike Clampitt (Haywood, Jackson and Swayne counties) chairs the House Federal Relations and American Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jake Johnson (Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties) is the co-chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Among Western North Carolina’s other legislators, members with assignments on important environmental committees include Wildlife Vice-Chair, Rep. Brian Turner (Buncombe County), and committee members Reps. Mike Clampitt, Karl Gillespie (Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties), John Ager (Buncombe County), Mark Pless (Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties) and Jake Johnson; Brian Turner and John Ager both also sit on important environmental and agriculture appropriations and policy committees; Rep. Clampitt is a member of the House Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee; Sen. Julie Mayfield (Buncombe County) is a member of the Senate’s Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee. Rep. Pickett is the vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee and Representatives Moffitt and Pless are members of the House Transportation Committee; Senator Julie Mayfield a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in action for its 2021 session – and MountainTrue is ready with a list of suggestions for legislators to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources.

In recent weeks, our staff have met with legislators from across the region to educate them about our 2021 legislative priorities and to hear about their To-Do lists for the session. Thanks to Senators Deanna Ballard, Chuck Edwards and Kevin Corbin, as well as Representatives Jake Johnson, Tim Moffitt, Mark Pless, Karl E. Gillespie and Ray Pickett for taking the time to meet with us. We’ll also meet with other members of the WNC delegation through the early weeks of the session.

Some of MountainTrue’s priorities for 2021 include:

Water Quality Solutions

  • Increase funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC’s waters. Allocating more money to help local Soil and Water Conservation Districts help farmers with fencing and other pollution control efforts will keep agricultural waste out of rivers and streams.
  • Address failing septic systems. Failing septic systems are another major source of bacteria. Reinstating the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) program will help reduce this pollution. Before it was cut several years ago, WaDE visited 13,379 WNC homes and identified 2,016 sources of water pollution in WNC – mostly from leaking and failing septic systems.
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater is the third largest source of bacteria in NC’s waters. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution.  Like the cost-share program for farmers, existing CCAP funds are insufficient to meet the demand for assistance.

Improving Access and Quality of Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is a $28 billion business in North Carolina, and WNC’s outdoor industry accounts for thousands of jobs in our region. Improving access to our region’s wild places builds support for their protection and helps our economy. That’s why we support the following investments: 

  • Expanded public access and improvements to the Watauga River and French Broad River Paddle Trails 
  • Improvements to public access and trails for a popular recreational area on the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties
  • Dam removal and improved fishing access on the Watauga River
  • Trail improvement and other investments to improve outdoor recreation on the Tuckasegee River in Swain County
  • New public access for float boats on the Valley River in Cherokee County
  • Expanded funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as well as the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (formerly known as Clean Water Management Trust Fund) to help preserve the health of critical watersheds. 

The General Assembly will now be in session every week through mid-summer. Stay tuned for updates from us on how our region’s waters, recreation spots and communities fare at the legislature in the coming months.

Speaking up for WNC’s environment in Raleigh is central to MountainTrue’s mission – that’s why we are the only WNC environmental organization with a year-round advocate in the capitol. Your support of MountainTrue is key to our success, so thank you for making our state policy work possible! 

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

How about a little bit of good news to start the New Year? 

In case you missed it, two of North Carolina’s environmental leaders got new, high profile jobs recently. 

First, Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) Michael S. Regan was appointed by President-Elect Joe Biden to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to leading NC DEQ, Secretary Regan led clean energy expansion programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, and also served as an air quality expert at the EPA for almost a decade. You might remember that Secretary Regan also received hundreds of public comments from MountainTrue members and our allies calling for full excavation of North Carolina’s coal ash in 2019 – a decision he ultimately ordered, resulting in the largest coal ash cleanup in US history. 

Based on today’s projected Senate runoff results, it is likely that Regan’s appointment will be approved by the Senate. His appointment to the head of the EPA is important and historic – he would be the first Black man to lead the agency and the second Black leader to ever hold this position. He would guide the agency’s efforts on two enormous tasks: restoring environmental rules and enforcements gutted by the previous administration, and advancing Biden’s goals of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035.

Additionally, Governor Cooper has appointed Reid Wilson to be Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Department oversees 39 state parks and recreation areas as well as an array of museums, historic sites and cultural organizations and agencies. 

Wilson, who previously served as the Department’s Chief Deputy Secretary, has a long history in conservation including serving as executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), chief of staff to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and national political director for the Sierra Club. 

Having two supremely qualified North Carolinians from the environmental movement at the top of these agencies should be welcome news to those of us who are concerned about the protection of our land, air and water. We’ll keep you posted on the leadership transition at NC DEQ as Governor Cooper works through the appointment process to fill the void left by Secretary Regan’s departure.

In other news, the 2021 General Assembly convenes on January 13 for a ceremonial session to swear in new members. Then, after a short break, legislators will return to Raleigh on January 27 to begin the real work of the long session. 

Here at MountainTrue we are already holding meetings with legislators throughout the region to go over our – and their – to-do lists for 2021. Look for an overview of MountainTrue’s legislative priorities soon, and thank you for your support!

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

After millions of dollars in campaign spending, a gazillion political ads and much gnashing of teeth (as well as far too many tweets), the balance of power in the next North Carolina General Assembly is clear. At the state level, all of that politicking has landed us, well, right back where we started.

Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was elected Governor for a second term. And despite many pundits’ predictions to the contrary, Republicans maintained their control of both the state House and the state Senate – but without the veto-proof majorities they enjoyed in the first two years of Cooper’s first term.

So essentially, the elections have given us the same political environment in Raleigh that we’ve had for the last few years. It’s a political arrangement that has produced a good deal of deadlock – on the budget, on Medicaid, and on climate change to name just a few issues – and seems likely to do so again for the next two years.

Unfortunately, the deadlock is likely to get worse. Next year, lawmakers will face a multi-billion dollar shortfall as a result of the pandemic and its impact on the economy. If lawmakers and the Governor could not come to agreement on a budget before the budget crisis, it’s hard to imagine how they will come to agreement on the budget cuts and/or revenue increases that will be necessary to deal with billions in red ink.

On a more positive note, several legislators from WNC who have worked with MountainTrue to help us protect our rivers and streams will return to Raleigh. Senator Chuck Edwards of Henderson County, for example, is the chairman of a key appropriations committee and has helped us secure funding for water quality testing, spill response and expanded public river access for paddlers and other recreation enthusiasts. Likewise Senator Deanna Ballard, who represents counties in the Watauga River basin, has helped us protect and expand access to the river. This has included funding for the Wards Mill Dam removal project. We are also grateful for the return of Representatives John Ager, Brian Turner and Susan Fisher, who have been champions for the French Broad Watershed and MountainTrue’s legislative agenda.

Elsewhere in WNC, however, Representative Ray Russell of Ashe and Watauga Counties and Representative Joe Sam Queen of Haywood, Jackson and Swain – both solid votes for our region’s environment and strong supporters of MountainTrue – were defeated Tuesday.

And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that MountainTrue’s very own Co-Director, Julie Mayfield, is heading to Raleigh in January to represent Buncombe County in the state Senate seat. Julie will fill the seat that was left vacant when former Senator Terry Van Duyn ran for Lieutenant Governor.

That’s probably enough campaign talk for now. Look for updates about MountainTrue’s legislative agenda soon, but until then thank you, again, for your support of our work in WNC and in Raleigh.

District Seat Now Held By Seat Formerly Held By Counties Represented
House 113 Jake Johnson Jake Johnson Henderson, Polk, Transylvania
House 114 Susan C. Fisher Susan C. Fisher Buncombe
House 115 John Ager John Ager Buncombe
House 116 Brian Turner Brian Turner Buncombe
House 117 Tim Moffitt Chuck McGrady Henderson
House 118 Mark Pless Michele Presnell Haywood, Madison, Yancey
House 119 Mike Clampitt Joe Sam Queen Haywood, Jackson, Swain
House 120 Karl Gillespie Kevin Corbin Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon
House 85 Dudley Greene Josh Dobson Avery, McDowell, Mitchell
House 93 Ray Pickett Ray Russell Ashe, Watauga
Senate 45 Deanna Ballard Deanna Ballard Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes
Senate 47 Ralph Hise Ralph Hise Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey
Senate 48 Chuck Edwards Chuck Edwards Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania
Senate 49 Julie Mayfield Terry Van Duyn Buncombe
Senate 50 Kevin Corbin Jim Davis Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain


MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh Report: Time To Vote Early & Planning For Our 2021 Agenda

MT Raleigh Report: Time To Vote Early & Planning For Our 2021 Agenda

Debates, town halls, early voting, campaign ads and voting rights lawsuits – the election season is at its height! So if you don’t have a plan for voting, now is the time to make one. This is a great week to participate in early in-person voting, which allows you to register or update your voter registration and vote at the same time. Remember that you can vote at any early voting site within your county during the early voting period, but must go to your assigned polling location if you vote on Election Day. You can find early voting sites within your county if you live in North Carolina here and if you live in Georgia here. For more information on early voting, visit MountainTrue’s 2020 voter information page. 

While we all wait to see the results of the election, MountainTrue has already started our planning for the 2021 General Assembly. Earlier this month, we convened a half-day planning meeting to develop our first draft of ideas to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources. We’ll spend the next few weeks refining these ideas, take in the results of the election and then finalize our legislative agenda in November. 

Our goal is to spend December and January talking to legislators – and to members like you – to build support for our 2021 priorities so we can hit the ground running when the legislature begins its 2021 efforts in January. While our to-do list for next year is still being developed, look for proposals to keep our rivers and streams clean, to improve enforcement of water pollution rules and to fund new investments in paddle trails and public access to our most popular rivers and streams. 

Thank you for supporting MountainTrue, and happy voting!