With DENR reducing employment in divisions responsible for permitting, our first fear is that the permit granting process will be slowed. For many years, business leaders and developers complained that DENR failed to process permit applications quickly enough. In previous sessions, legislators increased staffing and trimmed procedures to speed permit decisions.
If permit approval slows because there are fewer employees to do the work, we fear that both investments and jobs will be lost.
When the Legislature did its "listening tour" a few years ago, the number one complaint from business leaders was the amount of time it took to get permits issued from DENR. Tales of a six-month wait, or in some cases a year or more, were brought to light. And how do Republicans respond? By cutting back on the number of permitting agents. So much for "business-friendly" politicians. Just like the regulators themselves, those business leaders are merely pawns in the GOP's drive to destroy DENR.
To that end, the grant would have allowed North Carolina to develop a network of sites to test streams and survey wildlife before and after fracking occurs. The “before” is critical – having a thorough baseline of data would help the state better document issues that might be linked to fracking.
What will happen instead? Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder says there still will be testing at fracking sites, because N.C. law requires it. But the law, which was drawn up by a Republican-led legislature, doesn’t require the thoroughness of testing that the EPA grant would have provided. In fact, the law even lets the testing be done by the companies that will perform the fracking. That’s not the kind of comfort we have in mind.
I actually heard Tom Reeder say that drillers would do testing before fracking begins, in a News14 story in the last few days. Trying to find it now, and will update diary when I do. Until then, here are a few questions for lawmakers: are you going to let potential Welfare recipients drug test themselves at home, and trust their findings afterward? Is the NC Bar going to allow aspiring attorneys to take the Bar exam at home, and tell you if they passed? Why would you allow a company that could expose itself to millions in damage do their own baseline water quality testing? It defies logic.
Saying they don’t need the money to meet their new mission, state environmental officials recently turned down almost $600,000 in federal grants. The money would have been used to set up a network of sites to begin testing streams in the Piedmont where natural gas production is likely to occur and to establish a long-term planning and monitoring program to protect wetlands.
Before the reorganization is complete in early 2014, DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said the department expects to cut about 70 positions in the new Division of Water Resources – half of them already vacant.
John Skvarla, the fox in charge of the DENR henhouse, already told us that he had a "new mission" in mind for his agency's water quality division.
Now we see more clearly what that new mission is: completely ignore water quality issues. If water becomes polluted, we'll stick our heads in the sand. Because we wouldn't want to know about any harm that Skvarla's corporate profiteer buddies are doing to the environment in their quest for more almighty dollars.
North Carolina applied for a federal grant to monitor water quality that might be poisoned by fracking. The grant was approved.
In the latter piece, you attacked DENR for designating leadership positions as exempt from the state personnel act and misled residents trying to understand the important changes we are making to the way state government works...
By reviewing rules through the lens of scientific data and regulatory experience, we can make responsible choices that help residents without sacrificing the environment.
How can you review rules "through the lens of scientific data and regulatory experience" when you're turning exactly those same positions into political ones, meaning those scientists and regulators will likely be replaced by political hacks like yourself?
Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 4:27 PM
To: Skvarla, John
Subject: RE: Labor Day
Thanks so much for the note regarding Labor Day - you have always been timely with these, unlike some of your predecessors.
You and I are going to part ways today. I had a great "gig" here in the regional office - I had a great boss, great co-workers, I was still learning a good bit, and the good days were always outweighing the bad days. I was pretty certain (after my first 5 years) that I could outlast any administration the governor could appoint. I had no problem with the Martin administration - he was a man of science and no extremist.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its employees have been a target of Republican complaints for years. McCrory made 167 DENR employees exempt from civil service protections – up from 24, the number the Office of Human Resources reports Perdue having in October.
The new exemptions reach below the division directors and into the regional offices where employees make decisions about some permits and fines. Even the state geologist is now an at-will employee.
This is more than just being able to secure a cushy job for a pal, or even to exert your influence over permit-issuing regulators to keep campaign donors happy. Instead of going through the legitimate yet difficult process of changing environmental laws and regulations, Republicans will now be able to do an end-run around these laws simply by replacing those who have the audacity to enforce them. And it's also about settling some old scores:
When you want to know what Mitt really thinks, you get him before a bunch of big donors ("47%"). When you want to know what John Skvarla, NC DENR Secretary, really thinks, you get him in front of the John Locke Foundation.
This article is frightening. Layoffs at DENR, "turning the place upside down", "Everything we do in DENR has to involve some consideration of economics", "We don't want the most severe [fracking] rules" ...
and my personal (ahem) favorite:
"If we got wet gas [ethane, propane, butane], then Katy bar the door ... It could be the panacea from heaven"
Yeah, John, or it could be Pandora's box from hell.
Put more bluntly, if those employee aren't doing what the governor and his appointees want, they get sacked. It's a deeper intrusion of politics into the bureaucracy than has previously been allowed. Most worrisome is that many of those employees losing protection are in the ranks of DENR managers and directors - about 150 of them. Exposing more of this state's environmental managers and regulators to political pressure may threaten the air and water quality that are keys to our tourism industry and a powerful lure bringing new residents and industries to North Carolina.
Having a clean and fertile environment is not just important for the health of the people and wildlife in North Carolina, it's a state asset that brings in billions in revenues each year. Trading that asset for the short-term revenues associated with offshore drilling and inshore fracking is questionable at best, and doing so while putting political pressure on regulators only serves to answer that question. And it's not a good answer.
An analysis by WRAL News shows that these re-designated workers are disproportionately concentrated within the hierarchy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where McCrory will soon strip employment protections from about 150 directors and managers. In some cases, especially in areas involved in permitting and compliance, employees six levels removed from the DENR secretary now serve in exempt positions.
Meaning, if you do your job like you're supposed to (protecting citizens from toxic nightmares), and not like the "oil is a renewable energy" idiot Skvarla wants you to, you probably won't have a job anymore.
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