In 2011, a story appeared that seemed to capture the essence of the N.C. legislative leadership’s feelings about DENR, the State environmental and natural resource regulatory agency. The story, first attributed to Speaker of the House Tom Tillis, said that an Appropriations Commitee co-chair, Rep. Mitch Gillespie, had drawn a bullseye on his legislative office window so that it lined up with his view of the Archdale Building, long time DENR headquarters. The story’s intrigue deepened when Rep. Gillespie left the legislature in 2012 to join Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration as an Assistant Secretary …. of DENR. By most accounts, Rep. Gillespie did a fine job while at DENR, as one might expect after his years of paying close attention to environmental issues and asking good questions on the legislative Environmental Review Commission.
But with Gov. McCrory’s signature on the 2015 Budget Bill, S.L. 2015-241, on September 18, DENR went away. It became the “Department of Environmental Quality.” Several of its formerly important functions were transferred to other departments. Over the last twenty-five years, the erosion in size and power of North Carolina’s main environmental agency has been so striking as to count as “defenestration,” with Rep. Gillespie’s office window bullseye adding a new layer of meaning to that term. But the erosion really began in the late 1990s, during the administration of Gov. Jim Hunt.