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Urgent addendum: do you live in Bladen, Cumberland, Currituck, Durham, Franklin, Guilford, Lincoln, Moore, New Hanover, Pitt, Randlolph or Union Counties? The NC Board of Elections will debate and decide on your county's proposed early voting plan this Friday at 11am. Use this online portal to submit a comment that you want to protect weekend options for working voters (including Sunday voting), campus sites that work for students and local communities, and polling locations that are most convenient for historically-marginalized voters. Do it NOW! Thanks.

North Carolina is in the sad position - AGAIN - of leading the nation in a bad way: we're fourth on the list of states that have made the biggest cuts to environmental agency funding and second in staffing cuts since 2008. The Environmental Integrity Project just released a major national report, The Thin Green Line, Cuts in State Pollution Control Agencies Threaten Public Health. Here are a few of its key findings about NC (quoted, references in the report, pp 18-19):

  • Since 2008, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) lost 34 percent of its funding (adjusted for inflation), while state spending overall grew by 8 percent.
  • Staffing at the DEQ dropped by 35%. Among the hardest-hit programs at the North Carolina DEQ over the last decade has been wetlands protection, with its workforce reduced from nine workers to zero by last year.
  • One fallout of the draconian staffing cuts is that the state now has a backlog of permit applications by developers and other business owners who need permits to move ahead with their projects. ... State officials have imposed a “shot clock” of 30 to 60 days for DEQ to automatically approve many permit applications. That means, that many permits will be rubber stamped because of inadequate time and personnel.
  • NC is home to 2,246 factory hog farms housing 9.7 million pigs that produce 10 billion gallons of manure annually. The hog waste lagoons often spill into rivers because of higher storm surges caused by sea-level rise and climate change.
  • North Carolina has 13 power plants with coal ash dumps that are leaking unsafe levels of toxic pollutants into groundwater, including the second-worst site for coal ash contamination in the nation: Duke Energy’s Allen Steam Station in Belmont.
  • The state has six wastewater and industrial plants that are currently in significant noncompliance with the federal Clean Water Act, all of which have been in continuous violation for the last three years, according to EPA records. These include the Bellows Creek, Long Creek, and Rocky River sewage treatment plants.
  • North Carolina also has 10 industrial facilities with what EPA considers “high priority” violations of the Clean Air Act, and 10 plants with hazardous waste violations.

via GIPHY

The context for these cuts is crucial: since 2008, "Congress and the White House have cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s funding for pollution control and science by 16 percent (adjusted for inflation) while reducing its workforce 16 percent by eliminating 2,699 positions." The idea has been to shift regulatory responsibility from the federal to the state level, and this report presents data to document that both levels are suffering from long-term under-funding and under-staffing. The effects of these cuts and down-sizing are increasingly evident because of the climate crisis. Remember recent Hurricanes Florence, Michael, and Dorian? Some affected coastal areas STILL haven't recovered from Matthew in 2016!

WRAL reported that "There was an agreement to increase DEQ funding earlier this year, though not nearly to the extent Gov. Roy Cooper requested. That plan fell apart as part of a larger budget fight." WRAL also reported (same article) that DEQ disagrees with some of the findings of the report, but not with the overall conclusion. Republican Senator Andy Wells, who's running for lieutenant governor, said in an email that "What you have here is a liberal group demanding the same old liberal solution: Spend more money. But this problem isn’t caused by lack of money – DEQ’s problems are caused by government bureaucracies run amok." So there's that...

NC Policy Watch environmental journalist Lisa Sorg regularly reports on issues that need attention (regulatory action, legislation & funding), here are a few from this month:

What can we do?

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Tags: (Environment, Climate Crisis, NCGA, NCPol)

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