A little gospel

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus singing an impromptu gospel song at this week’s NAACP rally at the North Carolina General Assembly on May 24, 2011

Fracking updates

Lisa Sorg has another piece out on the fracking of NC. This one deals with the lease agreements. He overview story from a few issues back is here.

Drilling companies have struck one-sided deals with North Carolina landowners, say agricultural, energy and legal experts who have seen the contracts. These contracts promise to pay property owners bonuses and royalties far below rates commanded in other states. And, depending on the wording, property owners could be financially responsible for the costs of cleaning up environmental damage, fines for zoning and land-use violations and other legal fees–costs that could far exceed the royalty payments.

The RAFI blog also has this post today about the effort to get landowners some protection against the predatory language in the lease agreements.

Landowners can’t wait. There are already approximately 100 leases accounting for over 9,400 acres of mineral rights in Lee County that have been signed. These leases contain predatory clauses that

* Put the liability for ALL environmental damage on the landowner,
* Do not compensate the landowner for any damage to his/her property,
* Allow the landowner to be sued by his/her neighbor if the company pollutes the land, and
* Allow the company to come on the landowner’s property at any time with no notice and drill anywhere on the property.

Senate budget hits Clean Water Trust Fund

Little doubt that the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, one of the chief sources of funding for land protection and conservation, water and sewer projects and upgrades to existing facilities will take a major hit. The question is how much?
The Governor takes 50 percent of the $100 million appropriated annually for the fund. The House took 90 percent. Now the Senate has eased back on that a smidgen at 87.5 percent.
The Senate’s version of the budget would also repeal G.S. 113A-253.1, which set the Trust Fund’s annual appropriation at $100 million.

DENR cuts — a receipts-supported agency?

One aspect of the budget proposal that is troublesome is a move to require most of DENR’s workforce to be supported by either matching federal grants or receipts, such as licensing and permit fees or funds that certain industries pay into for monitoring.
Reading the budget and related documents you see references in the budget to “match and no-match positions” and “receipts-supported positions.”
The regional offices – about 600 positions – are threatened with massive cuts. Before the department was given some flexibility in a later version, most of those offices were due to be either closed or drastically cut. Still, those offices are under a justification review and their funding has gone from recurring to non-recurring pending that review.
Some screen caps from the budget and the Money Report (click to enlarge):

DENR and its supporters are in an all out fight for saving the offices. While there are many reasons to make sure the offices and the work their doing continues, the main case being made is that eliminating them will slow down air and water permits, which would be unfriendly to business. It seems to be the only selling point that might work given the anti-regulatory climate in Raleigh.
While the regional office cuts are the focus, there’s some real cause for alarm in how they’re being cut.
In an interview last week Grady McCallie, policy director for the North Carolina Conservation Network, told me that in addition to concern about the regional offices and important monitoring, inspection and research work they do, the idea of a mostly “receipts-supported” environmental agency is worrisome.
For starters, the philosophy is awkward. Does it mean the state is not willing to pay for environmental protection? Or that it is only done in relation to business and industry and not for its own sake?
To me it implies a reversal of a forward-thinking environmental policy and the return to a reactive one. That’s a considerable shift in philosophy. Moreover, it ignores everything we’ve learned – often the hard way – about how to protect our natural resources.
Secondly, we know from various financing scandals, the federal minerals and mining agency scandal and just about every other scandal what happens when the watchdog gets to cozy with the industry it’s supposed to be watching. Making the agency reliant on payments from the industry it’s regulating will no doubt over time create a symbiotic relationship that invites trouble.
The big reason not to follow this receipts-supported path is that it doesn’t make sense on the ground. There are people doing some vital work throughout the state whose jobs would go away under this plan.
Dan Crawford, director of government relations for the League of Conservation Voters, said it’s not a reasonable way to judge the work someone is doing. “It doesn’t take into account the urgency and value of the work being performed.”
Going this route to judge whether to keep of cut a position means a lot of the research work, cutting edge pilot projects and environmental education programs at DENR are at risk as well as most of the efforts to better understand the state’s natural resources and how best to protect them.
This shift in policy is not only about returning to the past, it’s about ignoring the future.

Budget cuts and the environment

Following are a series of posts on specific proposed cuts in the budget that will threaten environmental protection, land conservation and long standing programs aimed at guarding public health as well as our natural resources.

For an overview on the impact of state budget cuts and environmental policy shifts take a look at the Exile on Jones Street column in this week’s Indy.
The money quote:

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

At risk is not just the regulatory framework that protects our air, land and water resources, but some of the “goodliest lands” the state has proudly sworn to protect and conserve.

Budget cuts that are jeopardizing our environment

Here’s the first column for the Indy in several years. Glad to be back doing it. Not happy about having to share this unfortunate bit of news.

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

N.C. House budget cuts are jeopardizing our environment

WRAL livestreaming judiciary hearing

Lots going on, including comments on Racial Justice Act

agenda as of this am:

Judiciary Subcommittee B (House)
Rendering Act Amendments. (H512)
Amend Felony Firearms Act/Increase Penalties. (H582)
Utilities Commission/Criminal Records Check. (H340)
Assault on LEO Inflicting Bodily Injury. (H696)
Supervis. of Magistrates/Juries/Calendaring. (H517)
No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty. (H615)
Make Synthetic Cannabinoids Illegal. (S9)