Shrunken DEQ budget could hurt GenX claim

A June 2012 photo of Cape Fear Lock and Dam No. 1
A June 2012 photo of Cape Fear Lock and Dam No. 1 N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

GenX is a chemical used in the making of the nonstick substance Teflon, and the state of North Carolina has accused Chemours, which makes the chemical, of improperly dumping it into the Cape Fear River without permission. The state’s lawmakers have voted to provide some funding to look into it, but their action in the form of a bill provided no extra funding for the Department of Environmental Quality.

And there, in short, lies the rub these days when it comes to environmental protection in Raleigh. Republican lawmakers, whether they admit it or not, look at environmental regulation as the enemy of big business. Rules hamper business, the logic goes, and therefore North Carolina needs as few regulations as possible. And since Republicans have been in charge, they’ve done away with regulation, and they’ve dramatically cut the budget for DEQ – not because of inefficiency, or because of a sudden revelation that the environment in North Carolina is pristine and thus doesn’t need looking after. No, the reasoning is that regulation is the product of a bunch of liberals running environmental policy.

North Carolina has been lucky in some ways – the coal ash episode being an exception – when it comes to big-scale environmental problems. But luck doesn’t last forever.

And this is a state with numerous waterways, a long coastline, mountain ranges and lakes. In many ways, the state is a natural wonderland, and that is one of North Carolina’s major assets. It is a vacation site for millions and millions of people within and outside of the state, and travel and tourism are the big drivers of the state’s economy.

Agriculture remains another asset, and one dependent on clean air and water.

And consider this from Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed that bill that was absent extra funding: “North Carolina has nine permit writers for 220 water discharge facilities. Meanwhile, South Carolina has almost twice as many officials overseeing far fewer facilities.”

That ought to sound an alarm for Republican leaders in the General Assembly, but it won’t. They’re determined to carry on with the dismantling of environmental regulation in the name of making North Carolina “business friendly,” even though the state is consistently ranked at the top in terms of its open-hand for business of all kinds.

The GOP’s obsession with doing away with anything Democrats have done in terms of environmental rules is disheartening and dangerous. It may sound like a cliche to say “it’s only a matter of time,” but ... it’s only a matter of time. A hurricane could (and in the past, has) caused devastating flooding that has created environmental risks in the state, and as regulations continued to diminish, those risks will only increase.

The environment is nonpartisan. Republicans could gain, not lose, political points if they became allies of environmental protection instead of being proud of being its enemy.

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