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DENR will remain vital under McCrory, new secretary says

Posted January 4, 2013 6:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2013 7:53 p.m. EST

— Gov.-elect Pat McCrory told business leaders this week that one of his top priorities will be making environmental regulations more business friendly.

John Skvarla, chief executive officer of Restoration Systems, a company that rebuilds wetlands and helps them comply with federal laws, will help lead that effort as incoming secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He says the environment will be protected, but some advocates are concerned about the new secretary's views on key issues.

In the past two years, the Republican-led Legislature has made deep cuts to DENR's budget and powers, limiting its oversight abilities.

Still, Skvarla said Friday, the agency remains vital.

"We are not going to go backwards. We've got to maintain and enhance, and we need to do that in an environment that makes this an attractive place for economic growth," he said. "I don't think that's an unreasonable trade-off."

Some lawmakers want more cuts to environmental regulations, but Skvarla thinks changing the agency's attitude may be a better solution.

"Maybe with a more customer-service environment, regulations stay the same, and everybody's happy because they can work together to accomplish the same thing," he said.

Skvarla has experience in wetlands mitigation – a background some environmentalists like, but others are concerned about his positions on issues such as climate change.

"I think climate change is a science, and I believe science is constantly in need of scrutiny," Skvarla said.

Skvarla said there's a diversity of opinion on climate change.

But Sierra Club's Dustin Chicural-Bayard says studies and surveys show a very clear consensus among scientists.

"We have a lot of world-class universities right here in North Carolina that are doing research and providing data that pretty much show climate change is, in fact, real," Chicural-Bayard said. "It's happening, and it's manmade."

DENR will also regulate fracking in North Carolina.

Skvarla says natural gas is a better investment right now than renewable technology. In fact, he's not sure fossil fuels are really a finite resource.

"The Russians, for instance, have always drilled oil as if it's a renewable resource, and so far, they haven't been proven wrong," Skvarla said. "There's a lot of different scientific opinion on that."

Chicural-Bayard says that's not true in mainstream science. He gives the incoming governor credit for a moderate environmental record.

"It's somewhat concerning to see one of his appointees make a comment that's so far out of the mainstream sentiment of most North Carolinians," Chicural-Bayard said. "It's concerning and surprising, but once again, we hope he keeps an open mind."

The most recent national polls show seven out of 10 Americans believe climate change is real.

WRAL News asked McCrory's office for his position on climate change but did not receive an answer as of Friday evening.