Assistant Secretary for the
Environment Speaks to Engineers
at the ACEC/PENC Environmental Networking Event last week Assistant Secretary
for the Environment, Mitch Gillespie, stressed the new vision for NCDENR as
focused primarily on customer service as he outlined the mission and objectives
for the department.
Gillespie is a former legislator who served
as a leading state budget writer for natural and environmental resources and
steered the legislation passed in 2012 that launched a modern regulatory
program to manage oil and gas exploration in NC. Gillespie also served as chairman of the
state Environmental Review Commission, which studies and recommends actions
related to protecting the environment and public health.
confirmed that reorganization of NCDENR is an on-going process and that he had
personally called in department heads and staff to get their ideas and
recommendations for improving service delivery and streamlining permit
applications. The regional offices,
studied last year for justification and/or reorganization, “are funded and will
be kept in place” but, Gillespie continued “there are always opportunities to
make things better”.
of the department’s challenges this year will be to develop the 100+ rules for
natural gas extraction or “hydrofracking” in North Carolina. “Fracking” has recently been put on a fast
track due to legislation introduced by Senator “Buck” Newton.
A Senate committee has already given
its approval to SB 76, legislation that would allow state regulators to issue
permits for natural gas hydraulic fracturing by March 2015. The Senate Finance
Committee approved the bill after making a clarifying change ensuring that local
governments could apply property taxes to industry facilities in the same way
that they are applied to other property. Besides allowing the permitting of the
natural gas wells, the legislation would create a tax structure for the
industry. It would allow an initial 1-percent tax on extracted shale gas, with
the tax to rise to 6 percent by 2020. The bill would also modify appointments
to the Mining and Energy Commission which would include eliminating the State
Geologist and the Assistant Secretary for Energy.
stated that more staff would be needed to implement hydraulic fracturing rules
and that the budget would likely include recommendations for more resources in
this area. Other recommendations that
are likely to be included in the Governor’s budget are continuation funding for
the Clean Water Management Trust Fund at the currently funded level of $11.2
million (down from a high of $100 million
4 years ago) and full state matching funds for the water revolving
less than two months in this new role, Gillespie has spent many hours reviewing
current rules specifically in regards to wetlands delineation, the watershed
protection act, and water allocation. He
hopes to streamline many of the processes and rules within these programs but is
cautious of federal authority and will not risk violations that could
jeopardize federal funding. In his
opinion SB 10, which, among other things, reorganizes the Environmental
Management Commission and the Coastal Resources Commission, as presently worded,
could violate both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
respect for staff within the department was clearly evident as he praised their
commitment to the protection of the environment. He stressed that he shares this same commitment
and will work with all stakeholders to develop an improved service delivery
model that continues to protect the environment for the citizens of North
Senate Bill 10
advocates and other political activists on Thursday called on Gov. Pat McCrory
to halt what they called a Republican power grab in Raleigh. Group leaders
converged in Charlotte and called for McCrory to denounce Senate Bill 10, which
would allow Republicans to replace members of several state regulatory
commissions and boards. They asked the governor to veto the bill and address
conflicts of interest he might have. The bill, which was approved by the Senate
last week, would allow McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly to
replace – and in some cases reduce – the number of members of the state’s
Industrial Commission, Environmental Management Commission and Utilities
Commission, among others. The Utilities Commission regulates rates and services
for public utilities in North Carolina, including Duke Energy. McCrory worked
for Duke Energy for nearly 30 years. But Republicans said the bill would allow
the new administration to start fresh with commission members who share their
philosophy. It would also save the state $2 million a year by eliminating or
downsizing some boards, they said.
(Gavin Off, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/15/13).
has requested that the House amend SB 10 by adding a provision that would
require one member of the EMC to be a registered engineer as the existing
legislation requires. Similarly, a
request that one member of the Coastal Resources Commission be a registered
engineer has also been made. Speaker
Tills indicated last week that SB 10 would likely be split into two bills and
that some amendments would be made.
governments shouldn't be permitted to pass regulations on natural gas fracking
that are so onerous that the practice is effectively banned, according to the
head of a commission writing rules for fracking in North Carolina. Fracking, or
hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial method of drilling that uses
chemicals, sand and water to fracture rock formations and release natural gas.
Scientists think prehistoric rock formations beneath Lee and nearby counties
may hold large deposits of the gas. Fracking opponents say they are concerned
about potential harm to people and the environment. Supporters say it can be
done safely and will bring a much-needed economic boost to the region.
County Commissioner Jim Womack is chairman of the North Carolina Mining and
Energy Commission. A study group helping the commission met Friday to talk
about local regulations for oil and gas exploration and development. The group
discussed setbacks, which are zoning rules that say how close drilling
operations could be located to schools, parks or other locations. The members
also talked about regulations that would limit noise and light from the
efforts. Womack suggested there could be state guidelines on setbacks that
local governments could ask to waive. The local governments would have to
demonstrate why they wanted their rules to be more stringent than state
standards, he said. "I would have a hard time if it was so onerous so a
city could use it to preempt drilling," Womack said. Womack said he thinks
local enforcement of noise and light regulations is essential. But drilling
companies should get waivers for the time it takes for the fracking process,
which Womack said is 24 to 36 hours. "It's just a loud and noisy
operation," he said. "If you don't allow a waiver, you're basically
prohibiting drilling." Another member of the commission questioned whether
the rules would be waived if the operation was close to a school or a church.
"I think we'll have to think about that carefully," said Marva Price,
an associate professor in Duke University's School of Nursing. Womack said the
drilling company might be able to do the fracking on a weekend if its near a
school or on a day other than Sunday if it's near a church. "If you say
there's no waiver, it's never going to pass muster at the state," he said.
study groups are scheduled to make recommendations to the commission by
October. The other two groups are looking at financing and compulsory pooling,
which would compel landowners to sell their mineral rights if their neighbors
allow a drilling operation on their land. The commission is scheduled to finish
its work by October 2014.(Steve DeVane, THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER, 2/16/13).
newly formed House Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday discussed but took
no votes on two different proposals on how to review rules in the N.C.
Administrative Code to determine whether they're wanted or needed, including
those that deal with health and human services and the environment. House Bill
74 would provide for review of all rules at least once a decade, at which time
they would expire unless approved by the Rules Review Commission. Rep. Tom
Murry, R-Wake, the bill sponsor, said the measure is the starting point for
lawmakers who want to see burdensome regulations taken off the books.
"This is a broad, sweeping bill," he said. Under the proposal,
Department of Health and Human Services rules would expire at the end of 2016
unless re-adopted. DENR rules would expire at the end of 2017, and rules
adopted by occupational licensing boards would expire at the end of 2018. All
other rules would expire at the end of 2019. Rules would be reviewed again
every 10 years. "It's a rolling review process, so we never get behind
again," Murry said.
N.C. Administrative Code includes nearly 23,000 rules without expiration dates.
"Many of them haven't had proper sunsetting or sunshine in many
years," Murry said. Bill sponsors acknowledged that the proposal needs
work, including possibly using public input as a way to ensure that unwanted
rules are targeted for review and those with broad support are not. Republicans
lauded the proposal as a way to help businesses by eliminating burdensome
regulations. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said this week that such
an extensive review of rules had never been undertaken in the state. He deemed
it "one of the most important things we can do for the business
environment in North Carolina." Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said nothing
else would impact more people more quickly and bring about that "at
last" response from state residents like House Bill 74. A similar bill has
been filed in the Senate.
quickly raised concerns. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said some rules provide
regulatory certainty to businesses and have widespread support. Putting those
rules up for review could create uncertainty among existing businesses and
others looking to come to North Carolina, she said. "I just want to be
mindful that if we're sending the message that everything is up for grabs, even
the consensus things, that we might do more harm than good," Ross said.
She questioned whether there was a way to identify rules that need review,
while having a "safe harbor" for others. That way, stakeholders could
spend their time on rules that would actually be reviewed.
Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, expressed concern about environmental and other
rules intended to protect public health and safety. "I hope we tread
mindfully there," she said. "I think this is fairly broad in scope
and I look forward to your revising this proposal." Environmental groups
have questioned whether regulatory agencies would have to spend extensive time
and resources reviewing rules rather than enforcing them. "Not all rules
are bad," said Dan Crawford, director of government relations at the N.C.
League of Conservation Voters. Bill sponsors acknowledged it would require
considerable resources of state agencies.
former Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who is now DENR assistant secretary for the
environment, proposed expanding to other agencies a "Rules Modification
and Improvement Program" used by DENR's Water Quality division. The
proposal would allow any group of 10 or more people to submit a letter to the
Office of State Budget and Management in opposition to any rule, which would
then trigger a review process. Gillespie said his proposal would expedite
reviews and allow the public to have more input in the process. A more detailed
explanation of Gillespie's proposal wasn't immediately available.(Patrick
Gannon, THE INSIDER, 2/14/13).