May 10, 2017. Some highlights of the state budget proposed by Senate leadership as it affects environmental programs:
Money. The Senate budget continues a nearly 10-year trend of cuts in environmental programs. An earlier post described some of the impacts of previous budget cuts that began with the 2008 recession (including a 9% reversion of already-budgeted funds in 2009) and continued after the economy began to recover.
The Senate’s proposed budget for 2017 would reduce state appropriations to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by nearly $7 million. That represents a 10% reduction in state appropriations and a 3% reduction in the department’s overall budget (which also includes federal grant funds and permit fees).
The reductions include:
♦ A $3.5 million discretionary cut, which means DEQ will have to identify reductions within the department’s operating budget.
♦ A $1 million transfer of funds to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to challenge an EPA rule defining federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Under the McCrory administration, DEQ had joined a number of other states in suing over the federal rule. The Cooper administration dropped out of the litigation and the Senate provision would fund DACS to continue the state’s participation in that litigation.
♦ The budget eliminates 56.5 positions from existing DEQ programs:
32.5 positions in the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. Those cuts affect non-regulatory waste reduction, recycling, water/energy efficiency and permit assistance programs. The cuts would effectively eliminate DEQ programs that work with business/industry to voluntarily reduce waste generation which allows those businesses and industries to reduce their regulatory burden and save money.
14 regional office support positions. DEQ’s seven regional offices house frontline permitting and enforcement staff for multiple environmental programs. The legislature has targeted DEQ regional offices for staff cuts in the past. This provision requires a reduction of an additional 2 positions in each regional office. It is not clear which DEQ programs would be affected.
5 administrative positions. The Senate bill identifies specific jobs for elimination, including DEQ’s Chief Deputy Secretary, the Legislative Affairs Program Manager; a communications position; and the last two environment education positions remaining in the department.
3 positions in the N.C. Geodetic Survey
1 position in the Land Quality Section of the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources
1 position in the Division of Marine Fisheries
Policy provisions in the budget bill. The budget bill includes a number of changes in state law or policy related to environmental programs:
♦ Conditions on use of funds the state may receive as a result of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s settlement with Volkswagen for violations of the Clean Air Act (Sec. 13.2 ) The Senate provision sets criteria for use of the funds and requires legislative approval of a DEQ plan for the funds.
♦ A provision that allows the owners of old landfill sites to avoid environmental cleanup requirements by: 1. Accepting liability for onsite and offsite contamination; and 2. Providing financial assurance for any environmental harm. There is an exception for property owners who did not receive compensation to accept local government waste for disposal. The provision affects a state program to assess and cleanup contamination associated with landfills and trash dumps that never met standards for solid waste landfills adopted in 1983. (iSec. 13.4).
♦ Changes to laws governing the Marine Fisheries Commission (Sec. 13.17) . The provision reduces the MFC from nine members to seven members and requires a super-majority of five members to take any action — including adoption of rules. As with most state commissions, current law only requires a simple majority of the MFC to take most actions although a super-majority is required for adoption of fisheries management plans.
♦ A moratorium on wind energy projects (Sec. 24.2). The bill would prevent DEQ from issuing permits for new wind energy projects until December 31. 2020. During the moratorium, the bill would require a study of the impact of wind energy facilities on military operations in the state. Note; the process for approval of wind energy facilities already requires Federal Aviation Administration review and input from military installations.