North Carolina has shaved scores of regulations off the books since Republicans took control of the state legislature, efforts to help businesses save money that have often come over the objections of environmentalists and other public-interest advocates.
They’ve done it with the blessing of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. But deregulation is one area where GOP leaders in the General Assembly can expect to clash with the governor if Democrat Roy Cooper wins.
Both men say they favor a common-sense middle approach that protects the environment and consumers without imposing unnecessary hardship on businesses. But while McCrory has championed deregulation, Cooper has built his political career in the legislature and as attorney general promoting environmental and consumer safeguards.
After passing wide-ranging deregulation bills during their first five years in control of the legislature, Republicans were unable to muster enough support to pass this year’s version, which included a reduction in the number of counties that must conduct vehicle emissions inspections and a repeal of the ban on discarding televisions and computers in landfills. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, said recently that was his biggest disappointment of the session.
At a recent public event, McCrory said the effort will continue.
I’m sure there will be more review of regulations because we continue to get feedback
Gov. Pat McCrory
“I’m sure there will be more review of regulations because we continue to get feedback, and not just on the regulation itself,” McCrory said. “One of the big issues is the interpretation of regulations.”
He said making sure that regulators apply the law in a common-sense, consistent way while also being flexible enough to accommodate individual projects is the challenge.
“That’s the balance we have to strike in government,” he said.
For example, he said, the administration has been looking at ways to make it easier to certify truck drivers who have had experience driving military vehicles in Afghanistan or Iraq, rather than make them go through training here.
Speaking to reporters from a school he was visiting, McCrory said he is also looking at ways to make it easier for someone to become a teacher as a second career.
The state chapter of the Sierra Club says McCrory is going in the wrong direction, noting his administration supported lifting the ban on electronics in landfills, as well as delaying requirements to reduce the sources of pollution upstream from Jordan Lake.
“In recent years, ‘regulatory reform’ has been code language for weakening or rolling back existing environmental protections,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club. “For four years, the McCrory administration has often stood by silently as the legislature has weakened or rolled back one environmental protection after another. Increasingly, McCrory’s (Department of Environmental Quality) pushed and supported regulatory repeal in the legislature.”
Red tape or protections?
While McCrory has spent his years in private industry, working nearly 30 years at Duke Energy, Cooper has been one of the state’s regulators for the past 16 years.
Before that, when he was in the state House in the 1990s, Cooper introduced the first legislation making it a felony to intentionally pollute, to discourage people and companies from risking paying civil fines as the cost of doing business. The bill passed despite substantial opposition.
As attorney general, he pushed coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions and went to court to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to clean up emissions that pollute North Carolina’s air. The TVA fight led to a landmark settlement, which included shutting down or cleaning up the plants nearest North Carolina.
I believe strongly that clean air and water and economic development can walk hand in hand
Attorney General Roy Cooper
“There are many significantly cleaner air days in western North Carolina as a result of that lawsuit,” Cooper said in a recent interview. “I believe strongly that clean air and water and economic development can walk hand in hand.”
Cooper was also instrumental in passing the nation’s first anti-predatory lending law, and enacting financial fraud protections that he says helped limit foreclosures in North Carolina when widespread abusive practices in the mortgage industry hit the country.
“We fought against the utilities and banks and pharmaceutical manufacturers when they’ve done wrong,” he said. “We realize they’re important to the economy and provide good-paying jobs, but at the same time we don’t want them taking advantage of people.”
Chris Kukla of the Center for Responsible Lending says Cooper’s office has been a model for other states’ financial regulation.
“Over last 10 years, I can’t think of a significant consumer protection area in financial services his office hasn’t been involved in,” Kukla said.
Will bills increase?
Cooper is already at odds with the McCrory administration for not challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose more stringent air and water regulations. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded in part by business interests, has criticized Cooper for not joining two dozen states opposing mandated reductions in emission of greenhouse gases. North Carolina joined the lawsuits without Cooper’s assistance.
AFP says the EPA edict will raise customers’ utility bills by more than $400 a year by 2020. A Duke University study in July found complying with the EPA would have minimal costs, no more than a 1 percent increase.
The North Carolina chapter of AFP has spent much of this summer knocking on doors and making phone calls to build opposition to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the plan from being implemented.
Joseph Kyzer, AFP state chapter communications director, said the free-market organization also plans to continue its fight against renewable energy mandates and tax credits. Republicans let a North Carolina tax credit expire but have let stand a 2007 law requiring utilities to rely on green energy for a set share of their electricity sales.
“Our concern is he would veto, oppose or disrupt any efforts to at least freeze and study the energy mandate from 2007,” Kyzer said. “That’s our primary concern right there.”
Staff writer Colin Campbell contributed to this report.