By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013
Update: In about 48 hours, with almost no chance for public input, the North Carolina state Senate passed a poorly designed bill to fire all current members from several N.C. advisory boards and commissions, including the Utilities Commission and Environmental Management Commission. Give your state Rep. a call today and ask that they oppose this legislative overstep and actually govern. [https://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx]
An unprecedented power grab is in the works in North Carolina, where Republican majority leaders are looking to cut and replace environmental and other key decision-makers on the party’s own terms.
The N.C. Senate Rules Committee met on Feb. 5 concerning Senate Bill 10, the “Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act,” legislation that seeks to remove 131 members of eight influential state boards and commissions before their terms are up. This action would see the effective gutting of environmental experts from the state’s decision-making process and the likely appointment of new, pro-industry members.
Among the committees being affected are the Coastal Resources Commission, the Environmental Management Commission, the Industrial Commission, and the Wildlife Resources Commission. Most importantly, the bill would allow the General Assembly and the governor to hand-pick replacements.
The number of environmentally-focused boards possibly being stripped of their membership could spell disaster for ongoing projects concerned with regulating pollution and protecting the environment. The new commission members would not have the level of expertise or the familiarity with the projects of current members, thus ensuring the degradation of the state’s progress toward proper environmental protection.
That’s not the whole story, though, as further steps are being taken to weaken the influence of environmentally-conscious voices in the legislature.
The bill also would eliminate requirements that the governor appoint at least one member to the Coastal Resources Commission who has affiliation with a conservation organization, nor would he have to appoint a doctor experienced in the health effects of environmental pollution to the Environmental Management Commission.
He would, however, be obligated to appoint two members to the CRC who are “coastal property owners” or have experience with “land development,” and one member to the EMC who has “knowledge in the field of industrial pollution” and must be employed or retired from “an industrial manufacturing facility.”
Molly Diggins, North Carolina director of the Sierra Club, stated in a press release on Tuesday that the proposal “is an unwarranted and ruthless attack on environmental boards and commissions whose job it is to serve the public.”
A similar scheme was attempted way back in 1937, when President Franklin Roosevelt faced federal Supreme Court opposition to his New Deal programs. Some of us may remember from our history classes the lessons learned from a court-packing attempt — it’s generally considered by both sides of the aisle to be an aggressive and unlawful undermining of bipartisanship.
Sen. Bill Rabon, who introduced the legislation, has been quoted in The Charlotte Observer as saying it is time for the current administration “to wield its power.” If the bill is passed, that’s exactly what will happen. It will be one of the most vicious power grabs by a party in state Senate history.
Tod Miller, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, has said the purpose of the committees was “to bring everyone to the table, and to work together to resolve vexing environmental needs and issues.” But this bill, he continued, “trashes that concept in favor of concentrating power among a much less diverse set of environmental stakeholders.”
And with that new power will come one of the bill’s first victims: Serious environmental protection for the state. Don’t allow pro-industry politicians to remove environmental experts from the committees making crucial environmental decisions in your state.
If you live in North Carolina, locate your state senator here, click on their name, and call them today!