I have a confession: I’m not as green as I should be. I don’t drive a hybrid (but my CR-V gets good gas mileage!); I still take long showers; and sometimes I am just too lazy to go upstairs to turn the lights off.
But, as I think about my children’s future, it’s hard to find issues that are more important than keeping our air and water clean, preserving our open spaces, and protecting wildlife.
Unfortunately, when it comes to North Carolina’s environmental policies and programs, the news is not good. Under the McCrory administration, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has faced sharp budget cuts; key staffers have left; and many of the enforcement activities of the agency have been either formally eliminated or shifted to be more “business friendly.”
The state’s commitment to land conservation, once one of the state’s claims to fame, has been all but erased by steep budget cuts. Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center reports that spending for land conservation has dropped 90 percent – from $289 million in FY 2007-2008 to just $30 million in FY 2014-2015. Now the administration has even proposed moving management of the state parks system to the Department of Cultural Resources and possibly raising entrance and parking fees.
The state has stuck its head in the sand regarding climate change and sea level rise. Largely ignoring the science and the real threats posed by these phenomena, the legislature passed a law in 2012 placing a four-year moratorium on any state rules, plans or policies based on sea level rise. The News & Observer reported last year that McCrory and then-DENR Secretary John Skvarla “…expressed skepticism about scientific studies that link human activity with global warming. Skvarla’s agency recently removed links and documents about climate change from its website.”
Earlier this month, Frank Gorham III of Figure Eight Island, chairman of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, expressed doubts about the need for any state policies to address sea level rise. In response to a new report showing, for example, that by 2045 the sea will rise 5.4 to 8.1 inches in Duck, Gorham said he preferred to let locals decided how to address the issue.
Speaking of the coast… Just last week Governor McCrory testified before Congress that offshore drilling in the Atlantic should be closer to the coastline. McCrory testified in support of a new federal proposal to allow offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, but he argued against the proposed 50-mile “buffer zone” around the coastline, which is designed to protect tourism and fishing while limiting the effects on coastal wildlife.
And who could forget last year’s tragic Dan River coal ash spill, when 39,000 tons of ash spilled into the Dan River near Eden, NC from a closed Duke Energy coal-fired power plant that is owned by Duke Energy. The spill prompted state legislation, fines and renewed attention on coal ash ponds, but the state’s lax regulation and oversight of such ponds has not been addressed.
The news isn’t all bad. North Carolina’s green industries have grown tremendously in recent years and are major contributors to the state’s economy. According to an analysis by RTI International, approximately $2.7 billion was invested in clean energy between 2007 and 2013, for a total economic benefit to the state of $4.7 billion.
But even those gains could be in jeopardy. Legislation has been introduced to gut North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, called REPS. This law says utilities have to generate increasing amounts of energy from renewable energy sources or from increased efficiency, with an ultimate goal of 12.5 percent by 2021. A bill with powerful support would make the final target 6 percent, this year’s benchmark, and end REPS altogether in 2018.
I may still be getting the hang of the green lingo and learning ways that I can do my part for the environment. But, I remain committed to doing my part. I hope my state, my legislators and my governor take that same pledge.
The future of my children and all our children hangs in the balance.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.