GOP lawmakers determined to dilute rules on NC water quality

Long before they took power in the General Assembly in 2011, GOP leaders often talked about “unnecessary regulation” as if rules governing clean air and water and worker safety amounted to some kind of communism inhibiting free enterprise and the American Way. The mantra had long been heard in Washington, where “deregulation” has been a watchword of Republicans in Congress for decades, but the philosophy is now in control on Jones Street, where the rules of the road are made – and unmade.

Limitations on development near upstream sources of water for Jordan Lake, for example, and rules that aim to clean up Jordan and Falls lakes don’t sit well with the GOP. Some Republicans want to do away with the stream buffers required across the state that limit some development areas in an effort to curtail the runoff pollution that fouls streams.

In this year’s short session, state Senate’s Republicans – who at times seem so anti-regulation they’d like to take the yellow lines off the highways – tried to repeal the rules about development upstream from Jordan Lake and Falls Lake. They’d like to block the parts of regulation that have yet to take effect and do away with virtually all regulation, favoring instead to try to fight pollution with the useless SolarBees and now mussels.

Environmentalists counter that the results of weak regulation are no mystery. More than 1 billion fish in the Neuse River and shellfish harvests have been lost, from nutrient-rich pollution.

Said Matt Starr, the Upper Neuse river-keeper, “We are in the rare situation of being able to see the future. We know what will happen if we roll back these nutrient-management strategies.”

The Republicans’ determination to put the interests of upstream developers first and to treat nutrient management and the cleanliness of water resources as a nuisance is about as shortsighted as government gets.

The News & Observer’s Craig Jarvis reported that when McCrory officials talked with the state Environmental Review Commission, they “seemed to downplay focusing on watershed controls,” not presenting adequate information that shed light on what other states had done to protect watersheds.

Fouling the state’s watersheds will in the long term hurt everyone, including developers. North Carolina’s tourism industry, for one, depends on clean air and water. Once those resources are damaged, the state will reap the consequences even as it tries to repair the damage.

So why not install meaningful, long-range, visionary rules to protect the environment rather than constantly seek ways to stop or retreat on rules that already exist? It’s clear Republicans have the abandonment of water protection rules in their sights, and they’ll keep up the fight when the General Assembly returns to Raleigh next year.