Streamlining, they call it.
Except that what the General Assembly has in mind for the states Environmental Management Commission really isnt about making that board more efficient, or better able to do its job of balancing environmental and development interests.
Instead its about cutting the commission down to size. The EMC, after all, deals with environmental regulation two words that just dont go together for todays Republican Party.
Over the years the EMC has drawn fire from folks who think its too accommodating of development and industry, but the bulk of the heat has come still comes from the other side. For example, the commission, years ago, approved the states Air Toxics pollution control rules that the current GOP-led General Assembly is so keen to see go up in smoke.
At last years legislative session, the first controlled by Republicans since shortly after the Flood, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2011 aimed to increase regulatory efficiency in order to balance job creation and environmental protection. That included some unwise regulatory relief for new developments near our fragile coast.
Public interest purge
Now the legislature is going after the composition of the EMC itself, as part of a wide-ranging Senate bill (SB 851) that slims down or alters the membership of numerous state boards and commissions in the name of efficiency. Many of the bills provisions make sense state-appointed boards, after all, can grow too large and its likely that some havent met for years. Periodic weeding in this garden is a good thing, if done in an evenhanded way.
Tell that to the EMC. It now faces a measurable loss of balance, as six specified EMC board positions are to be cut from the 19-member commission.
A loss of balance? Thats the logical conclusion when the commission slots to be removed all involve people with interests or qualifications in public health, fish and wildlife conservation, and water and air pollution control.
Meanwhile, the remaining members are to include One who shall, at the time of appointment, be actively employed by, or recently retired from, an industrial manufacturing facility and knowledgeable in the field of industrial air and water pollution control. Also, a licensed engineer. Someone in agriculture. Another who is actively connected with or [has] had experience in pollution control problems of municipal or county government. (The wording is from the original bill setting up the EMC.)
Good deeds, punished
In a Point of View article published on the opposite page Sunday, EMC chair Stephen T. Smith stressed that the commission strives to maintain a balance of protecting clean air and water while promoting a healthy economy. Certainly there are grounds for disagreement about how well the EMC has done that. But give the board some credit. As Smith noted, overall, North Carolina remains both beautiful and business-friendly.
SB 851s changes, he wrote, would bring the decades-long balancing act to a jarring halt, leaving the EMC favoring regulated interests and leaving environmental and public health interests at peril.
If streamlining really were the goal, the reductions would have been made in a more neutral manner. Meanwhile, the legislature seems determined to set up a new Energy and Mining Commission, with an industry-heavy board, to do a job overseeing fracking that the EMC could do.
These changes, which could still be blocked if enough legislators keep the states long-term interests in mind, come at a troubled time for the protection of public health and the environment. The GOP strategy seems chillingly clear: In the state capitals, argue that the federal governments standards should prevail, at least when theyre not as far-reaching as, say, North Carolinas Air Toxics program. And in Washington, argue that environmental regulation should be dialed way back.
Atop this bulldozer, ideology, not efficiency, is in the drivers seat.