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N.C. Environmental Legislation, 2015: Deregulating and obscuring the consequences

October 28, 2015
Picture of Volkswagen diesel car

2015 was another big year in changes, almost entirely deregulatory changes, in North Carolina’s environmental laws. The General Assembly’s first ratified bill of the session, S.L. 2015-1 (“Amend Environmental Laws”), was an assortment of changes to such diverse programs as coal ash cleanup, solid waste generally, and air toxics. Among the General Assembly’s last ratified bills was S.L. 2015-264 (misleadingly entitled a “technical corrections bill as recommended by the General Statutes Commission”) with a section appearing after midnight in the waning hours of the session, for the first time, with no prior committee review or public debate, that attempts to prohibit any local government regulation of oil and gas exploration, development and production. Between these two bookends, against the backdrop of Volkswagen’s admission that it faked its emission results on millions of supposedly “Clean Diesel” cars worldwide, were dozens of provisions affecting nearly all facets of N.C. environmental law. I have summarized these provisions in this framework:

  1. Changes that reduce public environmental information
  2. Changes that allow more pollution, or more development in environmentally sensitive areas.
    • Air
    • Water
    • Land
  3. Environmentally protective changes
  4. Environmental finance
  5. Matters in limbo and miscellany

If Volkswagen, listed as recently as 2013 as “best in class” on Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index, was actually willing to blatantly defraud consumers and federal regulators, what are the odds that smaller, less well capitalized companies will self-regulate properly when it comes to environmental externalities?

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NC’s New Fracking Rules: Kudos and a Concern

January 30, 2015

Since 2012, North Carolina has been on a fast and furious quest to create an entirely new regulatory regime for oil and gas production. The intertwined issues of whether and how to create such a regime to encourage fracking in North Carolina became and remain central enviro/political questions for the state. In 2012, a legislature newly controlled by the Republican Party (for the first time since Reconstruction) directed that regulations be put in place to encourage oil and gas exploration, and quickly. The central institutional actor charged with doing this has been a new State commission, the Mining and Energy Commission. The MEC is made up, as is typical in this and other states, of volunteer political appointees.  Could a new group of volunteers really pull off the creation of an entirely new regulatory scheme in little over a year? Environmental rulemaking in North Carolina in the past fifty years has not been about speed or efficiency, and the issues involved in fracking and its regulation are highly technical and politically controversial. So many of us who watch and advise about state environmental law felt this process might just produce a train wreck.

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