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N.C. weighs economic development vs. environmental impact

Posted June 4, 2010
Updated June 5, 2010

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— Job creation is key to North Carolina's recovery, but some major economic development proposals face stiff opposition because of environmental worries. The debate about risk and reward debate could decide the direction of the state’s economy.

When supporters push for oil drilling off the North Carolina coast, they talk about the economic boost.

The primary argument for the proposed Titan cement plant in New Hanover County is job creation. It’s the same argument for a $3 billion international port in Southport: Shipping can lift the state's economy.

“I think the state certainly wants to look at all options,” said North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden.

Walden said in the desperate quest for jobs, though, the state must weigh viability with the environmental impact.

Elizabeth Outz of the non-profit Environment North Carolina argued that green energy jobs linked to wind and solar power can achieve both.

“The choice between jobs and the environment is a false one. More jobs and a clean environment can go hand in hand,” she said.

Walden said he thinks “the economic jury is still out about how many of those jobs there will be.”

Walden believes a mixture of old and new school industries will be needed in the state's recovery. He acknowledged the legitimate environmental worries prompted by the devastating oil spill in the Gulf.

Recently, a judge ordered a more stringent permitting process for the Titan cement plant, and opponents of the proposed port helped convince the state House to block $10 million for a study.

Those fighting development say they are not trying to kill jobs, but are trying to preserve the natural resources that draw millions of people to live and work in North Carolina.

“Actually, having a clean environment brings more jobs,” Outz said.

Supporters of drilling, the Titan plant and proposed port argue that new technology and planning will minimize environmental risk. Titan Cement is the closest to moving forward. The company announced this week it is appealing the judge's order for tougher permitting guidelines.


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