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Why Legislators Are Changing State Environmental Policy

The Seal of the State of North Carolina
North Carolina Government
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North Carolina

A variety of measures aimed at weakening environmental protections are making their way through the General Assembly. One would limit environmental regulations while another would repeal a six-year-old renewable energy policy. Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is changing its mission statement to reflect an emphasis on customer service, a move some call anti-science.

Today on The State of Things, Host Frank Stasio and WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie discussed the repeal of the environmental standards put forth in 2007 under the  Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires utility companies to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewable resources.

“In the six years since we’ve got that, North Carolina has been booming in the alternative energy industry,” Leslie said. “We’re the fifth biggest solar state in the country.  So, it is a little surprising that suddenly there is a move afoot to do away with these subsidies -- because they have generated a lot of investment and jobs.”

The 2007 standard has put more money into rural areas, where land is cheaper and can be used in large scale solar energy production.

Another environmental issue that came up during the show was the announcement that DENR has changed its mission statement. The new mission statement says that science “contains a diversity of opinion,” a phrase that Leslie claimed “made some eyebrows go up.”

When John Skvarla, secretary of NC DENR, came on the show, Stasio asked him what that meant.

“The reality is that there’s no such thing as consensus science,” Skvarla responded.

Stasio asked him about a comment he made to Laura Leslie in a previous interview, in which he said “there’s a variety of different opinions” about whether oil is a finite resource or not.

When Stasio asked Skvarla point blank, “Is oil a renewable resource?” the DENR secretary responded, “It’s not my call. All my point was to Laura [Leslie], is that she said gas was a finite resource. I said there are schools of thought that take a different point of view. I didn’t say what the answer was.”

He went on to say: “It’s for DENR's scientists to resolve. All I want is DENR’s scientists to understand that there are other opinions out there. It’s not my job to say one or the other is correct. ."

In response to that, Jonathan Riehl, a communications consultant, said “Science is not about endless debate about situations where we have 99 percent of the field agreeing on one thing and one percent objecting. The verdict is in. What we see in the redrafting of the mission statement is a very strategic opening of the door to more radical elements of the Republican Party that want to contest global warming.”

Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina director of Americans for Prosperity, disagreed.

“The reality on this climate change hocus pocus is that even if the climate is changing, it’s about what kind of punishment do we want to put on North Carolina taxpayers to address something that there’s no evidence of." He said. He continually emphasized the importance of “deregulating human beings and human activity.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio clip posted above.

Alex Granados joined The State of Things in July 2010. He got his start in radio as an intern for the show in 2005 and loved it so much that after trying his hand as a government reporter, reader liaison, features, copy and editorial page editor at a small newspaper in Manassas, Virginia, he returned to WUNC. Born in Baltimore but raised in Morgantown, West Virginia, Alex moved to Raleigh in time to do third grade twice and adjust to public school after having spent years in the sheltered confines of a Christian elementary education. Alex received a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also has a minor in philosophy, which basically means that he used to think he was really smart but realized he wasn’t in time to switch majors. Fishing, reading science fiction, watching crazy movies, writing bad short stories, and shooting pool are some of his favorite things to do. Alex still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he is holding out for astronaut.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.