ΚΚΚΚΚ NEWSLETTER # 104,Κ September, 2003ΚΚΚΚΚ ΚΚ PO BOX 155, BEAUFORT, NC 28516. 252-728-5117
Director's Editorial: Bruce Ethridge
[Bruce is our newest Board Director. He represented the people of Onslow and Carteret Counties in the NC House of Representatives for 15 years and is owner and manager of the Beaufort Inn---Ed.]
In our July 2003 issue of Crossroads, our President, Irv Hooper, wrote an editorial titled "Changing Times". Much of what he had to say bears repeating and should be a concern for all of us. Laws have been passed over the years to help us protect our health and well being. Many of these laws speak especially to protection of our fragile coastal environment, which contributes to our overall quality of life. These laws are broad in scope and allow for various commissions, such as the Coastal Resource Commission, Environmental Management Commission and Health Commission, to adopt rules that adhere to the laws. These commissions should be made up of people with certain subject knowledge, who are public-spirited, and who are willing to give of their time and energy to do the public good.
I will have to say at this point that I do not believe that every commission member has the common good of the general public at heart. I will also have to say that in environmental matters a majority of our elected officials seem to be more tuned to special interests rather than the public good. There are procedures that allow for review of the rules adopted by these commissions to be sure that they conform to the laws and that the rules are necessary, clear and unambiguous. Surely we do not disagree with this process as long as it is fair and not controlled by political special interest. Unfortunately this process of review has taken a bad turn toward the will of special interest groups. Such groups oppose many of these proposed rules and have the political power to delay or even overturn these rules. Remember, the rules have to adhere to the law. They have been thoroughly studied, sometimes for years with public forums and input, and go through many compromises. The proposed rules then have to be reviewed by the Rules Review Commission, which is part of the Administrative Procedures Act.
The Rules Review Commission members are appointed by the House and Senate, which are encouraged by special interest groups to appoint those persons who would support their positions. Now that they have the membership in place, the legislators pass amendments to the Administrative Procedure Act to give the Rules Review Commission more power to hold up or basically kill any rule. If that is not enough of a hurdle to jump, the rules cannot be adopted until the legislature has the opportunity in its next session to introduce a bill to change or even kill the rule which special interests might not like. I hope you are getting the picture by now.
It seems that many of our elected officials are influenced by special interest lobbyists, who are walking the halls of the legislature everyday while the Assembly is session. We all know that these special interest groups exert significant influence by giving lots of campaign money to candidates running for office who support their positions.
So what can the average citizen, who does not have a paid lobbyist in Raleigh, do? We need to be sure that the candidates running for public office understand our position on public health and environmental concerns. We must make it clear to our political representatives that we will no longer tolerate undue influence by special interest groups that seek to block rules and laws aimed at protecting the public good of a healthy environment. We need to follow up on how our elected officials vote on these rules and insist on an explanation for voting that seems to counter the public good of environmental protection. Here are several recent examples of what I am talking about:
The legislature overturned a rule adopted by the Coastal Resource Commission prohibiting swimming pools in ocean hazard areas. Special interest groups had no comment during public hearings but later went to their friends in the legislature to overturn the rule.
Special interest groups oppose Phase II regulation to address pollution problems from stormwater runoff. The Rules Review Commission is already sending comments back to the Environmental Management Commission signaling there will be significant objections to come.
The legislature overturned a modest rule aimed at protecting the water quality and natural resources of Swift Creek. Dr. David McNaught, a senior policy analyst with the N.C. Environmental Defense, said: "The legislature essentially ignored the extensive public participation that had underscored an appropriate science-based rule making process".
I see bumper stickers that say "No Wetlands, No Seafood". Yet people continue to vote and support legislators who, siding with special interests, vote against protection of our wetlands. Water quality and air quality are important to all of us. We must be able to adopt and enforce rules that help protect our environment and we must make our elected officials accountable.
Federal Phase II Rules & State Stormwater Rules (State RPE Stormwater Management Program; these State rules cover Regulated Public Entities not included in Federal Phase II permitting):
Federal and State non-point stormwater discharge rules have been under consideration for some time and finally were approved by the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) on July 10, 2003. Two provisions deemed key to environmental protection are in the final version accepted by EMC: a) maximum 12% built-upon, if within one half mile of shellfishing waters (SA designation), to be considered a "Low Density Project"; b) no new or expansion of existing direct points of stormwater discharge into SA waters.
These rules are to go into effect August 1, 2004. Before then, they must first go to the Rules Review Committee, a legislatively appointed group, for approval. Then they will be subject to General Assembly scrutiny as one or more groups opposed to the Rules (e.g., NC Homebuilders Association; NC Association of County Commissioners) attempt to weaken or eliminate those portions they find offensive by lobbying for disapproval bills.
For a copy of both Phase II and parallel State Stormwater Rules accepted by EMC, go to http://h2o.enr.state.nc.us/su/stormwater.html.
Call for Vigilance and Action
These Phase II and State Stormwater Rules promise to be very important for environmental protection. Undoubtedly, some special interest groups will lobby hard to dilute or eliminate significant rule components. Typically, their arguments appeal to the rights inherent in owning private property and the legitimacy of making adequate profit from private enterprise. Municipal and county officials will bemoan the cost of "unfunded mandates" and fear the unpopularity of increased fees and taxes needed to pay for effective stormwater control. Whatever the arguments used by these special interest groups, we Crossroads' members must make it clear to our legislative representatives that we will not abide a weakening of these Rules.
On January 1, 2004, membership dues for Crossroads will increase to $15 per year and a Life Membership will cost $150. Any new memberships or renewals received before then will be at the old rate ($10 and $150).