A legislature hostile to the environment

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2018

To the Editor:

In 1971, the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, was enacted by the North Carolina legislature. The intent was to inform the public of the environmental consequences of development and human activity in general.

However, when Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly took control of state government their primary interest was maintaining the support of corporate contributors. In 2014 and 2015, the legislature banned all locally enacted environmental ordinances. A wide variety of bans and restrictions on local water pollution protection efforts were enacted to help profits of land developers. Further, the legislature adopted laws which provided that stormwater programs shall not impose “new or increased stormwater controls for (I) preexisting development or (II) redevelopment activities that do not remove or decrease existing stormwater controls. Legislative bans on local regulation of oil and gas exploration and coal ash disposal were widely discussed and publicized. Other provisions passed by the North Carolina legislature from 2013 through 2015 included limitations on the size of riparian buffers, i.e. setbacks along the Pamlico River. No local action that discourages private well drilling was permitted. There were also legislatively imposed limits on local air pollution control programs and limits on town and city regulation of open burning. There was even a cut in the local environmental powers that have the longest tradition of local autonomy, the power to regulate solid waste in a given community.

Hurricane Florence found the state unprepared to manage the many public impacts of the storm as a result of cuts to state environment programs. Hazardous waste including coal ash and animal waste washed into streams. Municipal sewage treatment plants in many communities were damaged, and in some cases disabled.

Our own Albemarle-Pamlico watershed contains a plentiful and varied stock of natural resources that have long provide sources of income to the region’s residents. According to a study by N.C. State University, the value of natural resource inputs to commercial agricultural production in the watershed is $210 million per year. For commercial timber production, the estimated direct value is $245 million per year, and $20 million per year in commercial fishing. Natural resources support more than 36,000 jobs in the watershed, providing more than $672 million in wages each year.

Why would the GOP undermine such a valuable resource? Their benefactors wanted to be able to exploit the land, air and water with less public oversight.


Jim Smith