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Report: NC Among States With Largest Environmental Agency Cuts In Last Decade

A map showing changes in state environmental agency funding comparing fiscal 2008 to 2018.
Courtesy of Environmental Integrity Project
A map showing changes in state environmental agency funding comparing fiscal 2008 to 2018.

A new reportfinds the North Carolina General Assembly cut funding for the state Department of Environmental Quality by approximately 34 percent over a decade. Only three other states in the country cut more funding for environmental regulators in the past decade.The report from the Environment Integrity Project says from 2008 through 2018, funding for pollution control programs fell from $136 million to $90 million. Almost 430 jobs were also eliminated during this time.

The Environment Integrity Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws.

The group's Communications Director Tom Pelton said these cuts can prevent environmental laws from properly being enforced. For example, he says, if a state environmental permit writer does not approve permits for developers within 30 to 60 days, they're automatically approved in some instances.

"That means that polluting plants aren't being required to put on the pollution control equipment they should be required to have, leaving more people exposed to more air and water pollution," Pelton said.

Among the hardest-hit programs at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality over the last decade has been wetlands protection, with its workforce reduced from nine workers to zero by last year.

The funding cuts come as North Carolina feels the effects of rising sea levels caused by climate change. Also over this decade, the state budget in North Carolina grew by $3 billion.

On the federal level, the White House and Congress cut funding and staffing for pollution control at the Environmental Protection Agency by 16 percent over the same decade.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify a specific aspect of the state’s environmental permitting process.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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