Editorials

NC water quality demotion reeks of political pollution

2014 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Steve Tedder, with nearly 40 years of experience with the state in what’s now called the Department of Environmental Quality, is out as the leader of the Environmental Management Commission’s Water Quality Committee. The reason is simple: Tedder dared to question the decision of Gov. Pat McCrory administration’s to retract a report that was critical of the SolarBee project in Jordan Lake.

The questions were legit, since the report found the SolarBees – which are supposed to churn water and inhibit algae growth – aren’t working very well. The state has put $1.3 million into the project and is slated to put another $1.5 million into it over the next two years.

The report Tedder questions was rightly critical, but that’s not what the McCrory folks wanted to hear. The real reason the SolarBees were chosen as a water quality device is that the administration didn’t want to go through the more difficult process of installing development restrictions upstream of the lake. To do so would have doubtless offended developers who want as few rules as possible to interfere with their projects. And in this Republican administration, they’ve got willing ears in positions of power, as opposed to having to deal with strong environmentalists.

The administration claims Tedder’s removal – he is a consultant who retired from the state in 2011 – was just part of an effort to move people around in their roles so no one person became, as one official put it, the “ruler” of a committee. Tedder, with his experience, was obviously qualified to run the committee. This was no bureaucratic shuffle – it was clearly targeting someone from whom the McCrory administration didn’t want to hear bad news.

And it is astonishing. Jordan Lake provides drinking water to 300,000 people in the Triangle. If waters upstream are fouled, the safety and quality of that water are put at risk. Would this “business friendly” administration really rather take that risk than deal with offending a few developers who also are undoubtedly political supporters? Apparently, the answer is yes.

In Tedder, the state has someone who stands above others in terms of his knowledge of water quality and the rules that help to ensure it. If the SolarBees aren’t working – and a credible report says they are not – it is no disgrace to the McCrory administration that it tried something that didn’t work. What is a disgrace is that it is clear by this action that the administration, rather than consider the views of an expert, decided instead to silence the messenger – an action that’s not unique in government but rightly raises suspicions that those who did it are putting politics above all else.

If the administration thought it had been embarrassed by a SolarBee project that didn’t work, it now faces embarrassment compounded by this punitive action against someone who was doing his part to ensure water safety.

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