Under the Dome

Dome: Skvarla says DENR must protect environment and grow economy

August 19, 2013 

John Skvarla, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, said Monday he is overseeing 15 reorganizations simultaneously at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in an effort to streamline the agency he has been running since January.

Skvarla said he doesn’t know how many people will be laid off from the 4,000-employee agency, but noted that the purpose of the reorg is not to maximize body counts. Rather, Skvarla said, his goal is to make DENR more responsive in its dual mission of protecting the environment and growing the economy.

“Historically, the philosophy has been that corporate America is the enemy,” Skvarla told a lunchtime crowd of several dozen at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. “We can’t take people who are going to build the economy and treat them like the enemy. Everything we do in DENR has to involve some consideration of economics.”

Skvarla said the agency is processing permit applications more quickly, but he also insisted that environmental protections haven’t been sacrificed for corporate profit. He cited DENR’s recent court filings of 14 enforcement actions against Duke Energy for alleged drinking water contamination at the Charlotte power company’s coal ash pits throughout the state.

But he joked that if environmental advocates had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

With regard to the agencywide reorganizations, Skvarla said “we’ve got that place upside down.” He assured that if layoffs happen, they won’t be drastic, and motivated employees will thrive.

“This isn’t going to be burdensome,” Skvarla said. “This is going to be an epiphany for most of these folks.”

DENR’s responsibilities include regulating shale gas exploration and enforcing penalties for chemical spills and other violations. As part of that task, DENR oversees and advises the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which is writing 120-some rules to govern all aspects of shale gas exploration, or fracking.

Skvarla assured the mostly conservative, business-friendly audience that this state’s fracking standards would not be onerous for industry.

“We don’t want the most severe” rules, Skvarla said. “We want the rules that are the most appropriate in North Carolina.”

Hagan to visit Pergo

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will be in Garner on Tuesday to tour the Pergo Flooring facility. The Greensboro Democrat will use the occasion to make an announcement about a new manufacturing initiative.

She’ll be joined by Dr. Stephen Scott, head of Wake Technical Community College, which has a partnership with Pergo to train workers.

Hagan, who is running for re-election, has already introduced the America Works Act, which she says would close the “skills gap” by bringing community colleges and industry together to train workers and provide them with nationally recognized, portable credentials.

Casino ‘a local initiative’

The Shelby Star editorialized in favor of a potential Catawba Nation casino in Cleveland County and wrote its coverage based on how many jobs it could potentially create, without details on how those numbers were arrived at and using anonymous sources. It’s not a surprise, though: The former publisher for the paper, Skip Foster, attended the meeting at the potential site with members of the McCrory administration. Foster declined to comment last week.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is trying to distance McCrory from the deal. Days after declining to comment, a McCrory spokeswoman told the Star, “At the request of Cleveland County, administration staff attended one informational meeting to listen. This is a local initiative.” But any top-level gaming would need McCrory’s signature on a compact.

Staff writers John Murawski and John Frank

Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service