May 21, 2013
Like all budget bills, the Senate budget bill released on Sunday evening makes a number of changes to environmental laws — some related to the budget and some not. Here is a quick outline:
Conservation and Parks Programs
Section 14.3 creates a new Water and Land Conservation Fund by combining the Clean Water Management Trust Fund with the Natural Heritage Trust Fund. The statutes creating the Natural Heritage Trust Fund would be repealed. Staff of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund would move to DENR and the combined staff of CWMTF and the Natural Heritage Program would work under an executive director appointed by the DENR Secretary. The existing Clean Water Management Trust Fund Board and Natural Heritage Trust Fund Board would be replaced by a new Water and Land Conservation Authority made up of nine members; appointments would be divided equally among the Governor, Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The bill gives the Authority power to both develop criteria for grant awards and to make grant decisions.
Section 14.4(a) reduces the size of the Parks and Recreation Authority from fifteen members to nine. Appointments would be divided equally among the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Section 14.4(b) ends the terms of all current members of the Authority on June 30, 2013 to allow for appointment of new members.
Bernard Allen Memorial Emergency Drinking Water Fund
Section 14.14 makes a number of changes to the law creating the Bernard Allen Memorial Emergency Drinking Water Fund. The fund was created in 2006 to pay for well testing in areas with suspected groundwater contamination and to provide a clean water supply to low income residents with contaminated drinking water wells. The changes, recommended by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, do three things: 1. Allow more frequent retesting of wells in areas where groundwater contamination may be migrating; 2. Increase (from $10,000 to $50,000) the amount that may be spent per home to provide a new, clean water supply. (The increase is largely intended to allow DENR to contribute more funding toward water line extensions that can be too expensive for a local water systems to do alone.); and 3. Give priority to groundwater contamination that is manmade rather than naturally occurring.
Noncommercial Petroleum Underground Storage Tanks
Section 14.15 amends the law governing the state’s Noncommercial Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. The Noncommercial Fund pays the full cost of assessing and cleaning up groundwater and soil contamination from noncommercial petroleum underground storage tanks (such as home heating oil or farm supply tanks). The owner of the leaking tank pays only to have the leaking tank removed. The changes proposed by the Senate would for the first time require both a $1,000 deductible and a 10% co-pay by the owner of the tank. The Senate budget also appropriates $3.5 million to the Noncommercial Fund.
Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Funding
Section 14.21 creates a new Division of Water Infrastructure in DENR and a Water Infrastructure Authority. The new division would combine the infrastructure loan programs under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (now in the Division of Water Resources) and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (now in the Division of Water Quality) and add a grant program. The Appropriations/Base Budget Committee Report describes the grants as “planning and supplemental” grants to local governments for drinking water and wastewater projects. The budget allocates $3.2 million in 2013-14 and $4.7 million in 2014-15 for the grant program. Note: Creation of the DENR water infrastructure grant program seems to be related to Section 15.27 which eliminates all new state funding for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. In recent years, the Rural Center has received the only state grant funds for water and sewer infrastructure. The Rural Center funds have been awarded through two different water and sewer grant programs –one for planning and supplemental grants and another for economic development projects. The Senate budget appears to divide the existing Rural Center grant programs between the proposed DENR Division of Water Infrastructure (which would award planning and supplemental grants) and the new Division of Rural Economic Development in the Department of Commerce (which would make water and sewer grants for economic development projects). In an odd twist, Section 15.23 leaves it to the two cabinet secretaries (DENR and Commerce) to work out an agreement to divide staff in the Community Development Block Grant program (now in Commerce) between DENR’s Water Infrastructure Division and the Commerce Rural Economic Development Division.
Appointments to Environmental Commissions
Section 14.23 has the Senate changes to the makeup of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC). The language appears to be identical to language in the failed House/Senate compromise on Senate Bill 10. Like earlier Senate versions of the EMC reorganization, the budget bill repeals conflict of interest language now in the EMC appointments law. See an earlier post about the controversy over removal of that language.
Section 14.24 has Senate changes to the makeup of the Coastal Resources Commission. Again, the language appears to be very similar to the last version of Senate Bill 10. One thing that appears to be missing is the language requiring members of the CRC to either live or own property in the coastal area. That could be an oversight; sometimes language gets lost when legislative staff tries to cut and paste a provision from one bill to another.
Section 14.25 changes membership of the Coastal Resources Advisory Council. This language seems to match language in Senate Bill 10.
Oregon Inlet Jetties
Section 15.24 creates a 13-member Oregon Inlet Land Acquisition Task Force to look at the possibility of acquiring the land on either side of Oregon Inlet from the federal government “to preserve Oregon Inlet and to develop long-term management solutions for preserving and enhancing the navigability of Oregon Inlet.” In short, the purpose of the Task Force will be to revisit the now ancient conflict over construction of jetties at Oregon Inlet. The federal government owns the land on either side of the inlet. Those lands are managed by the National Park Service (Cape Hatteras National Seashore) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge) . Federal management plans for the wildlife refuge and national seashore do not allow construction of permanent erosion control structures on the shoreline, making federal approval of the jetty project unlikely. This is the latest chapter in a very old story that is partly about environmental policy and the effect of jetties on ocean shorelines and partly about money. If you are interested in more information on the possible costs, benefits and environmental impacts of the Oregon Inlet jetty project, the most recent analysis may have been a 2002 General Accounting Office report .