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.