More than two dozen environmental groups and advocates are asking Gov. Bev Perdue for a triple veto.
NC Sierra Club, Audubon NC, the NC League of Conservation Voters, the NC Coastal Federation, the NC Wildlife Federation and Environment NC are among the groups seeking a red stamp for three bills they say will lessen the state’s ability to protect its environment.
The bills in the groups’ sights include S781, the “Regulatory Reform” bill, S110, the “Terminal Groins” bill, and S709, the “Energy Jobs” bill that opens the doors to offshore drilling and fracking in North Carolina.
The letter environmentalists sent to Perdue accuses lawmakers of a “relentless assault” on environmental protection this session.
The budget, which was vetoed by Perdue but upheld by state lawmakers, made deep cuts in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Additional bills, including S22 "APA Rules," limited state agencies’ ability to enact regulatory requirements unless specifically required by statute or court order.
S781 goes even farther in limiting rule-making. The bill would forbid the state from enacting any environmental regulations that are stricter than federal regulations. It would also require DENR to add steps to its rulemaking process – a fiscal note, an economic impact study, and the drafting and consideration of at least two alternative rules.
The proposal was drafted by the Joint Regulatory Reform Committee after a series of public hearings around the state. Environmentalists say it goes too far.
“This committee was given a relatively surgical assignment – find the laws that are out-of-date or redundant or overly burdensome and fix them,” said Sam Pearsall, Senior Scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
“This bill doesn’t do any of that. Instead of a scalpel, it’s a club,” Pearsall said. “And instead of [removing] a few old, out-of-date, unnecessarily burdensome rules, it attempts to prevent future environmental management.”
Pearsall says an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center found that 885 public comments heard at the committee’s meetings or submitted online or by mail were in favor of maintaining the state’s environmental regulations, while 201 expressed concern about a specific regulation they thought should be addressed.
But Republican lawmakers say they hear a lot of complaints from businesses about environmental regulation. They argue that DENR regulations are byzantine, duplicative, and too subject to individual interpretation. They believe the changes will make it easier and cheaper to do business in the state, and that will help to create jobs.
Regulatory reform was one of the top items on the GOP agenda this session. It's a high priority for the state Chamber of Commerce and other business groups as well.