June 10, 2014. An earlier post described how the N.C. Senate’s proposed budget would affect environmental programs. The N.C. House released its budget proposal today. Here are some of the areas of agreement (likely to survive in the final budget) and disagreement (potential negotiating points.
♦ Diversion of interest income from a number of special funds managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to the state’s General Fund where the revenue can be used for other purposes. Many of the special funds were created to pay for cleanup of environmental contamination and have been chronically underfunded. See the earlier post on the Senate budget for more detail on the special funds affected by the change.
♦ Higher fees for commercial fishing licenses; recreational fishing licenses involving use of commercial gear; shellfish licenses; and fish dealer licenses.
♦ Appropriation of approximately $1.8 million for 23 additional positions in DENR to address coal ash sites.
♦ The House provides no funding for acquisition of property around Oregon Inlet and Highway 12 on the Outer Banks — the largest new appropriation ($15 million) in the environmental section of the Senate budget. See the earlier post for more on the Senate’s special budget provision on use of those funds.
♦ The House budget provides no funding for another Senate priority– resources for DENR to do additional geologic/geophysical analysis of shale basins in the state; digitize existing data on shale gas resources; perform chemical analysis on gas wells; and market the state’s shale gas resources to oil and gas companies.
♦ A special provision in the Senate budget specifically prohibits the state Division of Marine Fisheries from entering into a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The House budget directs the Division of Marine Fisheries to do exactly that. (A joint enforcement agreement would authorize state marine patrol officers to enforce federal as well as state fisheries regulations and make the state eligible for federal funding to support joint enforcement activities. The idea has long been opposed by the state’s commercial fishermen.)
♦ The budget adopted in 2013 required DENR to combine the Division of Water Quality with the Division of Water Resources and identify $2 million in savings as a result of the reorganization. The House has proposed to modify that provision by allowing DENR to meet the $2 million “management flexibility” reduction department-wide rather than through cuts to the water programs alone. It isn’t clear how much impact the change would have; DENR has already made significant cuts to the water programs and early on indicated an intent to reduce the water quality/water resources budget by double the $2 million required by the budget provision.