Will N.C.'s environmental watchdog be destroyed by 2016?

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Last week I told you about the new regime at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its startling refusal of $600K in federal grant money, intended to monitor water quality, particularly near fracking sites. As bad as the department's refusal of money to keep tabs on the fracking industry might be, it's just the tip of the iceberg of the damage being done to the state's supposed environmental watchdog. John Skvarla, McCrory's pick to wreck, er, run the department, is apparently in the process of stripping the department down to a minimalist version of its former self.

North Carolinas Outer Banks
  • sugargliding (Flickr Creative Commons)
  • North Carolina's Outer Banks

Today the Winston-Salem Journal, in a potent editorial, notes that staff layoffs and reorganization at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources leave its future effectiveness in doubt. The Journal points out that the department is merging its water quality and water resources divisions, cutting 70 positions. Skvarla says the department still has more than it needs to do its job. Others beg to differ.

Members of the business community are fearful that the cuts will delay permits and thus cost the state investments and jobs. Environmentalists, though, say the opposite could be true and that the department's job cuts will increase pressure to rush through permit applications without due diligence, making the likelihood of new environmentally destructive projects in the state much stronger. As a longtime Raleigh observer, I'd say business interests are much more likely than environmentalists to have their concerns taken seriously by Skvarla and company. In fact, Skvarla - who has next to no previous experience in environmental matters and still parrots the widely debunked view that climate change's existence is still a subject of debate among scientists - has shown a dedicatedly slavish attitude toward businesses' and developers' "needs" while giving environmental concerns the back of his hand. It's a depressing sight to see a once viable state department that had made progress in protecting the environment now being dismantled by people who don't even believe in the department's mission to begin with. And to think, these guys haven't even been in power a full year. You have to wonder what travesties they'll come up with next.


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