House v. Senate Budget on Funding for Environmental Programs

June 15, 2013: The N.C. House has adopted a  budget bill, giving a  better  picture of the shape a final state budget may take. Next step will be a conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate budgets; the compromise bill that comes out of the conference committee then has to be approved by both the House and the Senate to become final. The time available to reach a compromise — two weeks; the new state fiscal year  begins July 1. (If an agreement can’t be reached by July 1, the legislature usually adopts a “continuing resolution” that allows state agencies to continue to function under a temporary spending plan.)

You can usually assume that budget cuts, appropriations and  policy provisions  that are the same in the House and Senate budget bills will also  be in the final budget bill.  This post focuses on decisions about  money — program cuts and appropriations; another post will talk about policy differences in the two budget bills.  Overall, the House budget makes somewhat smaller reductions to programs in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources than the Senate budget. (An earlier post explains why the Senate budget — which at first glance seems to increase the DENR budget — actually cuts the budget for existing  programs.)  The list below is not comprehensive; you can find the entire House version of the budget bill (Senate Bill 402) on the General Assembly website.

Some of the funding decisions the House and Senate budget bills agree on:

●   End the Sustainable Communities Task Force and eliminate the one position in DENR that supports the Task Force. (The task force worked on guidelines for transportation, housing, open space and other development policies to support neighborhoods and communities.)

●  Provide more funding and up to four new positions to support the Mining and Energy Commission’s work on shale gas regulation

●   Make additional reductions in the state  program to restore shellfish habitat and rebuild the state’s oyster fishery (already significantly cut in earlier budget years).

●  Provide $1.1 million in one-time funding for observers to monitor the impact of commercial fishing  practices  on endangered sea turtles. The “at sea” observer program  is required under an agreement between the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which enforces the Endangered Species Act)  to keep the gill net fishery open.

●   Eliminate funding for the Adopt a Trails program.

●   Fund two new positions in the Division of Waste Management to  investigate areas with known groundwater contamination and

●  Appropriate $3.5 million for the Noncommercial UST Trust Fund.  The Fund pays to  cleanup petroleum leaks and spill from small, noncommercial underground storage tanks (such as home heating oil tanks and on-farm gasoline tanks.)

● Provide state match money to draw down federal funds for the drinking water and wastewater revolving loan funds. (The two revolving loan funds make very low interest loans available to local government water and sewer systems for infrastructure improvements.)

● Eliminate state appropriations for the N.C. Biofuels Center.

●  Eliminate state funding for Partnership for the Sounds (a private, nonprofit organization that promotes environmental education, ecology-based tourism, and sustainable development in the Albemarle-Pamlico region).

● Cut operating funds for the N.C. Zoo, but provide new money to repair and replace the Zoo trams.

 Some of the things that are different and will need to be worked out in the conference committee:

● Funding for the  Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The House funds CWMTF through appropriations  and a new allocation of  25% percent of the deed stamp tax.   The Senate budget  eliminates all funding for CWMTF, creating a new Land and Water Conservation Fund that is a hybrid of CWMTF and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

● The House appropriates $3.6 million for maintenance dredging in shallow draft navigation channels,  funded by an allocation from the Highway Fund.

● The House budget increases a number of fishing license and  permit fees;  the increased fee revenue would fund the at-sea observer program in 2014-2015 and later years.

● The Senate eliminates all funding for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and gives $4 million  to DENR for a new water and sewer infrastructure grant program to take the place of a similar program now run by the Rural Center. The House budget continues to fund the Rural Center.

● The Senate eliminates state  funding for the N.C  Museum of Forestry  in Whiteville and proposes to sell the museum to either the town or to Columbus County for $1. The House budget continues state funding for the museum.