MT Raleigh Report | May 18, 2017 — Assault on the Environment

In this week’s MountainTrue Raleigh Report: The General Assembly’s assault on the state’s environmental protection agency (and what you can do about it), MountainTrue in Raleigh and the environment grows our economy.

The Assault on NC’s Department of Environmental Quality

Last week at the General Assembly was all about the budget. As you may remember, Governor Cooper released his proposed FY17-18 and FY18-19 budget proposal in March. Now the General Assembly has started the process of approving the state’s $23 billion spending plan. Unfortunately, when Senate Republicans released their budget plan very late on Tuesday night, they published the latest chapter in the GOP legislature’s assault on the environment by slashing funding and positions for the Department of Environmental Quality’s. Contact your State House Reps TODAY and tell them to oppose this budget!

Since 2011, the legislature has cut staff and lowered environmental protections throughout the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency responsible for enforcing state and federal rules that protect our water and our air and our public health. Earlier this year, former DEQ assistant secretary Robin Smith researched the impact of these cuts on DEQ. Not surprisingly, she found that DEQ has experienced large reductions in the environmental staff responsible for protecting our state’s natural resources. She also documented long delays in approval, review and renewal of permits that ensure polluters are complying with state and federal clean water and air protections. You can find Smith’s entire analysis of the impact of the GOP cuts here.

The draft budget released earlier this week by the Senate majority continues this sad story.

Under the Senate budget, DEQ would lose 45 full-time positions. The Senate budget would also eliminate the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, which helps businesses and communities comply with environmental regulations and permitting. The Division also boosts recycling, energy efficiency and cutting emissions. In addition, $1 million would be cut from DEQ’s energy office under the Senate plan.

The silver lining in the Senate budget includes some modest new investments in the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and funding to help preserve farmland. The Senate also sets aside $2 million to purchase new firefighting aircraft in the wake of devastating wildfires in Western North Carolina.

But while these investments are laudable, overall the Senate budget represents a staggering threat to the state agency responsible for keeping our air and water clean and protecting the health of millions North Carolinians.

You can read more about the budget on WRAL at and The News & Observer.

MountainTrue in Raleigh

MountainTrue staff members were back in Raleigh this week, meeting with legislators to talk about the budget and other WNC priorities. On the top of our list: funding for DEQ, investments to help farmers comply with clean water rules and to assist mountain communities identify potential landslides. Directors Julie Mayfield and Bob Wagner also met with DEQ staff to discuss more about the ways MountainTrue and the agency can work together.

Our Environment is Good for the Economy

In case you missed it, a new report shows that outdoor recreation is a powerful driver of the economy. The Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Economy Report shows the outdoor recreation industry generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending, directly supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates $125 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Yet another reason to get outside and enjoy the beauty of WNC!

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.