January 30, 2014. Caught between state and federal budget reductions, the state’s Division of Coastal Management (DCM) eliminated five positions effective December 31, 2013 including the land use planning director and federal consistency coordinator. DCM carries out the state’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) — a joint state-local program to reduce property damage and injury from coastal hazards; protect public access to the state’s beaches and waterways; and manage the impacts of development on sensitive coastal resources. With the support of Republican Governor Jame Holshouser, the N.C. General Assembly adopted CAMA in 1974 shortly after Congress enacted the federal Coastal Zone Management Act to encourage creation of state coastal resource protection programs. Over the next several decades, North Carolina became a national leader in coastal policy even as the state’s coastal counties experienced an explosion of development activity.
DCM was forced to eliminate these two positions and three others (the Assistant Director for Permitting and Enforcement, an IT support position and a policy analyst) after several years of state and federal budget reductions. Federal grant funding under the Coastal Zone Management Act had been flat for over a decade while salaries, benefits and indirect costs increased. The last federal funding cycle reduced the state grant by 5.9%. At the same time, state appropriations have dropped 35% since 2009 and permit receipts fell by approximately 30% as the recession slowed development activity.
More on the impact of eliminating the land use planning and coastal consistency positions:
Land Use Planning Director. One goal of the Coastal Area Management Act was to plan coastal development with an eye toward conditions that make the coastal area uniquely hazardous and uniquely productive. To work, it had to be a joint state-local effort and CAMA made local land use planning a key part of the state’s coastal management program. Budget cuts in previous years forced the elimination of a long-standing DCM grant program that provided financial assistance to coastal cities and towns for land use planning. Ongoing budget cuts have now made it necessary to eliminate the CAMA land use planning director. The director supervised DCM’s planning efforts and worked directly with local government planners. Supervisory responsibilities for the planning program has shifted to DCM’s policy director.
Federal Consistency Coordinator. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires federal activities affecting the coastal area to be consistent “to the maximum extent practicable” with the state’s approved coastal management program. (To be enforced through the CZMA consistency requirement, a state program must be approved by the Office of Coastal Resource Management in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) The approved North Carolina coastal management program includes development standards adopted under CAMA, but also includes local land use policies, water quality standards, and other state laws and rules concerning coastal resources. As a practical matter, the federal consistency requirement gives the state an opportunity to review and comment on proposed federal activities and federal permit decisions affecting the North Carolina coast. In many cases, federal consistency review is the only way the state can influence the federal action.
You can find a list of the types of federal actions and permits DCM reviews here. North Carolina has most often used consistency review to request accommodation for state needs rather than to block a federal action entirely. The state used consistency review to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to put sand from federal navigation dredging projects back on N.C. beaches rather than dumping the sand offshore. In 1991, the U.S. Secretary of Interior upheld a North Carolina consistency objection to a federal permit that would have allowed Mobil Oil to deposit drilling waste from an exploratory well onto a commercially important fishing ground off the Atlantic coast. The CZMA consistency requirement also became one of the most important legal tools in North Carolina’s unsuccessful effort to prevent Virginia from constructing a pipeline to take water from Lake Gaston to the City of Virginia Beach.
Loss of the federal consistency coordinator comes at a particularly bad time given the increased activity around coastal energy development. Offshore oil and gas development most often occurs in federal waters that are beyond the state’s jurisdiction. (Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, state jurisdiction only extends 3-miles from shore.) Without direct permitting or enforcement authority, the state’s only influence over offshore energy activities may be through consistency review of federal lease and permit decisions. Since those federal decisions can advantage or disadvantage the different Atlantic coast states, even supporters of offshore oil and gas development may need a way to advocate for North Carolina interests. Consistency review also gives the state an opportunity to influence federal leases and permits for onshore and offshore wind energy facilities.
In both 2012 and 2013, the General Assembly funded new positions in DENR’s Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources to support work on energy development. At the same time, DCM budget cuts have resulted in the loss of a position critical to the state’s influence on offshore energy development activities. As of January 1, 2014, federal consistency review will be divided between two DCM staff who review CAMA major development permits. If activity around offshore energy development continues to pick up, the state will need to reinvest in the federal consistency process to have a voice in how that development happens.