What does new leadership in the NC legislature mean for state environmental laws?

Republican leaders celebrate taking control of the NC General Assembly.

For the first time since the 1800s, the Republican Party has assumed control of the state legislature in North Carolina. The GOP took both the state House and the Senate, a historic shift that hasn’t happened in over a century.

But what does this mean for our state’s environmental laws?

The outlook is uncertain, but it’s not necessarily hopeless.

Ned Barnett had a fantastic article a few days ago in the North Carolina Independent News, “Environmental issues face uncertain treatment as GOP takes control,” that explored the potential ramifications for energy and the environment under new Republican leadership.

The NC League of Conservation Voters’ Legislative Scorecard highlighted concerns about the voting records of the new leaders in the General Assembly:

The Senate’s previous leadership averaged a 75 percent score on the Conservation Legislative Scorecard, while the incoming leadership averaged just 51 percent. In the House, the former leadership scored 87 percent compared to the new leadership at 45 percent.

But, as Barnett points out in his article, it’s not all bad news:

While industry interests will get a friendly hearing in this General Assembly, environmentalists may find they have more support for their agenda than they expect.

Two potential changes where environmentalists may see setbacks, she noted, could be allowing more hardened structures to prevent coastal erosion and allowing the use of environmentally disruptive techniques to drill for natural gas. However, Samuelson said Senate Bill 3 — a law that requires investor-owned utilities to meet up to 12.5 percent  of their energy needs through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures — should survive this session.

Be on the lookout as legislators attempt to roll back key environmental laws that are protecting our state’s people and natural resources, especially the potential setbacks for environmentalists that Barnett mentions.

The Wilmington Star-News had a great editorial today urging the GOP to rethink relaxing environmental regulations along North Carolina’s coastline and embrace the environment and clean energy as a bipartisan issue that makes common sense and actually will create and protect jobs in our state.

What the N.C. Coastal Federation’s Todd Miller said is true: Good environmental policy is good economic policy. Business-minded Republicans who now control the General Assembly would be wise to remember that before making drastic changes to some of the rules that make North Carolina appealing to retirees, entrepreneurs, families and new companies.

While even Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue has trumpeted the need to remove unnecessary or business-repelling regulations and streamline much of the regulatory process, the Honorables certainly must be aware that environmentalism is not always synonymous with allegiance to liberal politics.

Yet among their priorities is a push to relax environmental regulations. That could be a costly political mistake.

Here along the coast, especially, people of all political stripes cherish clean water, air and scenery that is the envy of many a landlocked American. They raise their hackles when they feel their environment is threatened.

Aside from a philosophy that favors business interests, the GOP leadership is keenly aware that the recession made jobs, jobs, jobs a key issue for the Honorables to address. That indeed must be a top legislative priority.

But gutting rules that have protected our coastline, our water, our air and our soil is not the way to accomplish that aim.

Let’s hope that we can find a way — at least here in North Carolina — to spend the next two years returning to an era of bipartisan support for the economic benefits of preventing pollution and protecting our natural resources.

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