Charlie Carter: Nothing radical in new DENR mission statement

May 6, 2013 

Nothing radical in new DENR mission statement

The May 1 Point of View piece “Dangerous DENR direction” asserted that the agency’s new mission statement is radical and “alters the very definition of science.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The piece claimed that DENR “is the enforcer of the National Environmental Protection Act.” No such statute exists. The closest federal statute with the same acronym, NEPA, is the National Environmental Policy Act. But NEPA is administered solely by federal agencies to evaluate major federal projects. NEPA is not administered by or delegated to any state.

The piece also claimed that “DENR’s environmental regulatory powers are delegated ... by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” North Carolina – like 49 other states – is a sovereign government administering its own environmental programs under organic state law – the N.C. General Statutes. Contrary to the authors’ assertion, EPA has no authority to “strip” North Carolina’s environmental powers.

Based on these false premises, the authors misconstrue DENR’s new mission statement, which declares that DENR’s “primary mission is to protect North Carolina’s environment and natural resources.” From there, the statement sets out three principles: Fundamental philosophy, fundamental economics and fundamental science.

Fundamental philosophy recognizes that DENR is a service organization, serving all residents, and should always be a resource of public assistance and not “a bureaucratic obstacle of resistance.” Apparently, the authors are offended by the concept that a regulatory agency should actually serve and work with residents, business and industry to effectuate its mission.

Regulatory agencies don’t have to approach their missions in an adversarial, combative manner. The authors should note the state’s high unemployment rate and realize that the adversarial approach by prior administrations has resulted in slow economic growth and many companies avoiding North Carolina.

Fundamental economics recognizes that “traditional cost/benefit analysis is not always fully applicable to matters of the environment and public recreation” and simply states that DENR will consider “cost/benefit analysis as a component of its public service.” This approach is required under existing N.C. law and plainly consistent with President Obama’s Executive Order “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,” which directs federal agencies to “propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs.”

Fundamental science states that “decisions are made with a respect and understanding that environmental science is quite complex, comprised of many components, and most importantly, contains diversity of opinion” and that “public programs and scientific conclusions must be reflective of input from a variety of legitimate, diverse and thoughtful perspectives.” This principle simply emphasizes the basic premises of regulatory rule-making – all points of view submitted to the department will be considered.

This is not radical nor does it attempt to “alter the very definition of science.” The new DENR mission statement has been long needed to put the department on a proper footing to advance North Carolina’s environmental and economic futures.

Charlie Carter


The writer, an environmental attorney, served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. The length limit was waived.

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