MountainTrue Raleigh Report

Issue 20: Tuesday, May 3, 2016


They’re Baaacck
Legislators returned to Raleigh last week for the “short session.” Aside from dueling protests over HB2, the big news was the release of the Governor’s budget. The $22.8 billion proposal contains pay raises for teachers and represents a 2.8 percent spending increase over last fiscal year.

Conservation and the Budget
There was good news in the Governor’s budget for those of us who care about conservation and natural spaces. McCrory’s budget:

  • Provides an additional $1 million annually for the Department of Agriculture’s farmland preservation fund.
  • Restores the cuts made last year to the Natural Heritage Program, the state program that compiles information about the most important natural areas in North Carolina.
  • Restores funding for the Air & Water Quality Management Account, which pays for the Division of Air Quality to do much of its monitoring and oversight of air quality.
  • Maintains funding approved last year for the state’s trust funds for clean water, parks and other conservation efforts for the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year.

There’s still plenty of work to be done before the budget is complete. Both the House and Senate will release their own versions of the budget and then differences will have to be ironed out before the final spending plan goes to the Governor for signature. Early chatter inside the legislative building indicates a strong desire among both House and Senate leaders to have the final budget approved on or very shortly after the new fiscal year begins July 1 – a very ambitious goal. We’ll see if they can pull it off.

Welcome to NC – Just Don’t Drink the Water
One bill we are already following is SB 779/HB 1005, which limits when state agencies, local boards of health or local health departments can issue health advisories for pollution in drinking water wells and public water systems.  This bill stems from confusion over notices sent by the state to well owners near coal ash ponds about the safety of their drinking water over the last year or so.  The State first told the residents their water was NOT safe to drink, then, several months later, under a different standard, the state sent new letters to many well owners saying their water was indeed safe.

If approved, this legislation would limit the instances in which health advisories can be sent to the public essentially to those instances in which the water already violates a health standard or in which there is an interim standard and state-led investigation that uncovers an imminent threat to public health, safety or the environment.  The bill would effectively prohibit health agencies from issuing a health advisory when, for instance, experts know the water is dangerous but the actual standard has not yet been violated.  The law would also prohibit health agencies from warning people that their water is close to violating a health standard.

MountainTrue opposes this bill as written. Clearly, health authorities should be allowed to provide the public with all the information we need to make informed decisions about the safety of the water we drink.  The good news about this issue is that, as MTRaleigh goes to print, we are getting indications that legislators are reconsidering this unnerving proposal. We’ll continue to keep and eye on it and keep you posted.

Movers and Shakers
For local political watchers, it will come as no surprise that three WNC lawmakers were recently named among the most effective in Raleigh. The rankings are based on a recent survey of members and lobbyists conducted by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.  Publicly, most legislators will dismiss these rankings as little more than a popularity contest. Nevertheless, the rankings are widely read by legislators, lobbyists and other close followers of state politics.

In the Senate, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson – the Senate’s Rules chairman – ranked as the second-most effective member of the Senate, behind only Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, was sixth. Hise is co-chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee and a key player in the reform of the state’s $12 billion Medicaid system. (He’s also our early bet for Apodaca’s replacement as Rules chairman in 2017). In the House, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, was eighth. McGrady is one of the three chairman of House committee that oversees the budget process for the House Republican majority and is a major voice in just about all environmental legislation that comes through the General Assembly.

Movin’ and Shakin’
MountainTrue members will be heading to Raleigh soon to meet with McGrady, Hise and other legislators to discuss MountainTrue’s priorities for the 2016 session. Stay tuned for updates on these meetings and more information on how you can be part of MountainTrue’s advocacy efforts.

Get to Know Your Legislators
Keep your eye on our WNC Legislator Profiles. We continue to update them so you can get to know our legislators better.

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.