House v. Senate Budget on Environmental Policy

June 15, 2013: A comparison of the House and Senate budget bills continued (again, not a comprehensive list).

Policy and organization changes the House and Senate agree on; these also have related   money provisions:

●  Transfer the State Energy Office from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

●  Move Clean Water Management Trust Fund staff into the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (There are  differences in the way the House and the Senate would organize the conservation trust funds after the transfer.)

●    Allow the state Division of Marine Fisheries to enter into a  joint  enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Under the agreement,  the  state marine patrol would receive federal  funds  to enforce  federal  fisheries regulations in federal waters.

●  Require owners of small, noncommercial underground petroleum storage tanks (such as home heating oil tanks and on-farm gasoline storage tanks) to pay a $1,000 deductible and a 10% copay for assessment and cleanup of a spill or leak. Currently, the state’s Noncommercial UST Trust Fund pays the full cost of assessment and cleanup; the tank owner only pays for removal of the leaking tank.

Things to be resolved in conference:

●  How to  fund conservation and parks. The Senate budget transfers all revenue from the deed stamp tax (which has been dedicated to the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund) to the state’s General Fund and then appropriates a smaller amount for parks and conservation programs  supported by the trust funds. The House budget continues to dedicate revenue from the deed stamp tax  to trust funds for parks and conservation — 75%  to the Parks and Recreation Trust Funds (no change) and 25% to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (eliminating the Natural Heritage Trust Fund).

●   Elimination of the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission. The House budget bill proposes to repeal the Uwharrie Regional Resources Act, which would have the effect of eliminating the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission.  The Commission was created largely to advocate for and support a state  takeover of the Alcoa hydropower plants on the Yadkin River.

●  Creation of a new Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task Force to study the possibility of acquiring federal lands on either side of Oregon Inlet for purposes of building jetties to stabilize Oregon Inlet.  See an earlier post on the Senate  proposal here.

●   Changes to board and commission appointments. The Senate put changes to the Environmental Management Commission and Coastal Resources Commission appointment statutes into  the budget bill. The House budget bill does not include anything on board and commission appointments, but  a separate House  bill (House Bill 1011) has very similar language.

●  Whether to continue to dedicate some tax revenues to specific programs or bring all revenue into the General Fund to be allocated by the legislature on a year to year basis. The Senate budget  reclaims revenue from a number of  special taxes for the state’s General Fund and replaces the dedicated funding from those taxes with year to year appropriations  — generally at lower funding levels.   I have already talked about the Senate proposal to transfer deed stamp tax revenue to the  General Fund. The Senate budget does the same thing with  the scrap tire disposal tax, the white goods disposal tax and a portion of the solid waste disposal tax. Those taxes now directly support  recycling, waste reduction,  and solid waste management programs.  The Senate budget  transfers the  revenue from those waste disposal taxes to the  General Fund to be allocated by the legislature.  That diversion of tax revenue raises a bit of a bait and switch issue. The taxes were originally justified as necessary to pay for appropriate waste disposal and recycling;  transferring revenue from the disposal taxes to the General Fund weakens that link.