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:
- Changes that reduce public environmental information
- Changes that allow more pollution, or more development in environmentally sensitive areas.
- Environmentally protective changes
- Environmental finance
- 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?