What kinds of laws can a unit of local government in North Carolina–a city, a county, or a special purpose unit such as a soil and water conservation district–pass to adjust the balance between environmental protection and economic production? The answer to this general question starts with a search for authority given to the unit of government by the state legislature. There is also the open question of whether the N.C. Constitution itself grants some such authority.
Assuming there is a source of local power to act, the next question is whether State or federal government has already acted in a way that prevents the local unit from changing the law. This is the question of preemption, in legalese. My colleagues who focus on general local government law have ably discussed the way preemption questions are analyzed legally. But environmental problems have contributed more than their share of major cases on preemption. And environmental problems seem destined to continue raising hard questions about the relative power of local versus state and federal governments, as political power ebbs and flows in Raleigh.