A reckless law on NC regulations

August 28, 2013 

No one supports pointless regulations. If regulations exist, there should be a good reason for them, a reason that applies not only to the time of their adoption, but to present circumstances. Regulations that require unnecessary protections or no longer apply do not serve the common good and can become impediments to commerce.

This is the sensible premise on which House Bill 74 signed into law last week by Gov. Pat McCrory purports to rest. Its title says as much: “An act to improve and streamline the regulatory process in order to stimulate job creation [and] to eliminate unnecessary regulation.”

On signing the bill, the governor repeated the sentiment, saying, “This common sense legislation cuts government red tape, axes overly burdensome regulations and puts job creation first here in North Carolina.”

Sounds logical and harmless. Except the bill is not what its title and the governor claim it is. It is illogical and dangerous. It is concessions to developers and polluters crammed into a massive bill that was rushed through the legislature in the crush of closing business.

This bill will “streamline” regulatory process with a sledgehammer and blowtorch. The thousands of regulations state agencies have adopted based on laws passed by the General Assembly must each be evaluated and given one of three labels: necessary but controversial, necessary and not controversial, or unnecessary. If regulators can’t complete the review within a certain timetable, the rules or regulations will simply expire.

This review is being fast-tracked for rules and regulations relating to water quality. They must be reviewed within a year or they could expire. The task of doing that accelerated and exhaustive review is being handed to divisions of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in which consolidations and likely layoffs are imminent.

So it is that state rules and regulations on water quality that emerged from a deliberative process, presumably in response to real concerns, may soon be discarded with a cavalier “time’s up.”

“This bill is so sweeping and it doesn’t have any safeguards. If you haven’t readopted them in a year, they’re not going to exist anymore,” said Jane Preyer, director of the Southeast Office of the Environmental Defense Fund.

This is what the governor calls “common sense?” This is uncommon recklessness.

Regulatory agencies will not be able to carry out their missions if they are engaged in a lengthy review of every regulation and the effort of having them readopted.

The cynical may say distracting agencies and taking the teeth out of them is the hidden intent of this new law. But even if we accept the claim of the new law’s Republican backers that it isn’t intended to weaken regulators, but streamline regulation to spur more business, it’s hard to see the connection.

North Carolina has a good business climate in large part because it has effective environmental laws and regulations. The beauty of the state and the consistency of the laws that protect it are what have attracted businesses, newcomers, students and tourists. The wholesale stripping away of regulations in a misguided effort to liberate business from limits on pollution and excessive development hardly seems like a formula for making North Carolina more appealing.

This law – rather than a host of water quality regulations – is the one that should be eliminated. Unfortunately, the state may have to endure a period of anarchy in environmental regulation and lasting damage to the environment until new lawmakers can be elected who understand the meaning of common sense and the common good.

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