Robin W. Smith, Assistant Secretary for Environment in the Department of Environment & Natural Resources, took issue with an earlier blog (“Chicken Littles”) about environmental regulation in North Carolina. Smith’s response follows:
“I read your recent post about environmental regulation [Chicken Littles] and wanted to provide another perspective. I don’t believe the sky is falling, but I have to disagree with the other premise of your post – that the DENR programs that have delivered acknowledged improvements in air quality, water quality and natural resource protection are now out of control. That suggests both that earlier improvements in environmental quality came without controversy and that DENR in recent years has pushed an unreasonable regulatory agenda. No organization can claim to get it right all the time, but a fair assessment of the state’s environmental regulatory programs would need to consider a few more things:
1. “Most environmental rules in North Carolina are adopted by citizen commissions (like the Environmental Management Commission and Coastal Resources Commission) that are made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds and appointed by the Governor or legislative leadership. DENR provides staff support to the commissions, but does not have rule-making authority for the major environmental protection programs. Rules adopted by the commissions are, in turn, subject to legislative review and disapproval.
2. “Every major environmental rule adopted in the last 10-15 years has been shaped by significant input from local governments, business, and industry as well as environmental organizations and concerned citizens. None of our agencies and commissions rely on just the minimum public notice and comment required by state law. In many cases, these have been multi-year negotiations. Probably no one of the participants has gotten exactly what they wanted; but of necessity the final rules have reflected a balance of conflicting interests as well as the need to comply with state and federal law.
3. “The most significant changes in environmental standards in recent years have been directly influenced by the General Assembly. The Clean Smokestacks Act (which put stronger air quality controls on large power plants) was initiated by a coalition of environmental organizations and power companies and put in place by legislation. Most of the major new water quality rules (like the Jordan Lake watershed rules) went into effect by session law following legislative review of rules adopted by the Environmental Management Commission. In each case, the General Assembly made some changes, but accepted the core of the EMC’s rule package.
4. “Major changes in state environmental standards have tended to fall into three categories – Rule changes needed to be consistent with new federal rules (this would cover nearly all state air quality rules in recent years); rules that manage competing uses of the state’s natural resources; and rules required to meet a goal set in federal or state law. The Jordan Lake and Falls Lake watershed rules are good examples of rules that both responded to a specific direction from the General Assembly and required a balancing of competing uses. Upstream communities send wastewater and stormwater into the streams and rivers that feed into the lakes; those discharges affect drinking water supplies for downstream communities as well as fish and other recreational uses. The Jordan Lake and Falls Lake rules had to balance those competing uses and also comply with state and federal water quality mandates.
“The General Assembly’s recent request for public comment on regulatory reform actually resulted in surprisingly few recommendations for changes in state environmental rules. Of the few specifically mentioned for repeal, some had been in place for many years — such as the air quality rules developed under the administration of Gov. Jim Martin to address toxic air pollution.
“There is certainly room for disagreement over environmental policy and rulemaking. We will not all balance competing interests in the same way. But I can say that the process for developing environmental rules has been open, diverse and responsive to a wide range of concerns. Thank you for considering these comments.”