Tag Archives: Ethics

House Changes to Senate Bill 10 — The Environment Commissions

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development approved a new version of Senate Bill 10 (reorganizing important state commissions) that  looks very different from  the bill approved by the Senate last week. The changes did not please  Senate bill sponsor Tom Apodaca who appeared in the House committee to present the Senate bill.  The most significant House changes affecting environment commissions:

Coastal Resources Commission

— Increased the number of CRC members from the 11 proposed by the Senate to 13;  nine members would be appointed by the Governor and  four by legislative leaders

— Restored seats representing commercial fishing, sports fishing, wildlife and agriculture.

Like the Senate Bill, the House PCS would eliminate specific seats for members with experience in forestry, finance, marine ecology and conservation.

— Restored language limiting the number of CRC members who receive income from real estate development or construction. The House bill would require that seven of thirteen seats on the CRC  be  filled by individuals “who do not derive any significant portion of their income from land development, construction, real estate sales, or lobbying and do not otherwise serve as agents for development related business activities”.

— Added language requiring that all members be N.C. residents and either  reside or  own property in the coastal area

— Makes the transition in CRC membership  more gradual by allowing four current members to serve for another year.  The bill would end the terms of all  CRC members when the bill becomes law with the exception of four members who have existing terms ending June 30, 2014.  Those four members are now in seats designated for commercial fishing,  wildlife or sports fishing, local government  and one of the three at-large seats.

Environmental Management Commission

— Increases the number of EMC members to 15 (compared to 13 in Senate bill); nine members would be appointed by the Governor and six by legislative leadership.

—  Restores the  seat  for  a person  with experience  in air pollution or air pollution control.

— Adds back a seat for a  member with expertise in fisheries, marine ecology  or fish and wildlife conservation

— Restores the EMC conflict of  interest language. The House bill would require that all of the Governor’s appointees (a majority of the EMC members) must be people who  do not derive any significant portion of their income from “persons subject to permits or enforcement orders” under  the water and air quality statutes.

— Makes a more gradual transition to new appointments, taking the same approach used in the CRC appointments. The terms of all current EMC members would  end March 15, except that  four members would serve out terms  scheduled to end on June 30 2015.  Those four  EMC members now hold  seats earmarked for: agriculture; an engineer with experience in water supply  or in water or air pollution; a citizen interested in water or air pollution; and a person with expertise in air pollution or air pollution control. (As explained by legislative staff, the four EMC members hold over for two years  because of the way EMC terms are staggered.)

After a stop in the House Rules Committee on Thursday,  the bill can go to  the House floor.  From there, it will almost certainly  have to go to a conference committee to work out differences with the Senate.

Senate Bill 10 and Federal Conflict of Interest Laws

A bit more about Senate Bill 10. Both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act   have conflict of interest standards  for members of state boards and commissions with  authority to issue federal permits. To have  — and keep —  delegated permitting authority, North Carolina must meet those standards. North Carolina law gives the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) authority to issue federal water quality and air quality permits. Although the EMC has delegated much of its permitting authority to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) staff,  the EMC still makes decisions on major variances, declaratory rulings, civil penalty remission requests and final decisions in some administrative  appeals.

Senate Bill 10 removes language in N.C. General Statute 143B-283(c) that has allowed the EMC to meet federal conflict of interest standards. The sentence to be repealed closely tracks Clean Air Act language requiring any state commission that approves permits or enforcement orders to have a majority of members who “represent the public interest and do not derive any significant portion of their income from persons subject to permits or enforcement orders under [the delegated air quality permitting program]”.   Under G.S. 143B-283(c),   at least nine Environmental Management Commission members must not “derive any significant portion of their income from persons subject to permits or enforcement orders under [the water and air quality statutes]”.  (When it was adopted, nine members represented a majority of the EMC; more about that below.) Although the Clean Water Act’s conflict of interest  language is worded differently, EPA has also accepted G.S. 143B-283(c) as meeting requirements for delegation of  water quality permitting authority.

Since the EMC expanded from 17 members to 19 members in 2001,  nine no longer represents a majority of the commission.  EPA picked up on the math problem more than a year ago and began questioning whether North Carolina’s delegated permitting programs  still met federal conflict of interest standards. The question first came up in connection with the air quality program and DENR’s Division of Air Quality has addressed the issue in recent implementation plans for federal air quality standards. DENR seems to have satisfied EPA by making sure that permit-related decisions go to EMC committees that have a “public interest” majority at the committee level.

Complete repeal of the EMC conflict of interest language would force EPA to look at the issue again  under circumstances that make inconsistency with federal standards more difficult to resolve.  The EMC appointment criteria in Senate Bill 10 no longer assure that even EMC committees could have a “public interest” majority.