Conservation Insider Bulletin, Aug. 14

Published weekly for the Conservation Council of North Carolina

Conservation News to Peruse & Use

Editor: Dan Besse, cib@conservationcouncilnc.org
August 14, 2009

It's time for some environmental scorekeeping from the just-completed legislative session, plus a glance ahead at some of this fall's municipal campaigns, this week in CIB:

Legislative Watch: Done Deals; Lurking Menaces; Live Opportunities

Looking back over the General Assembly session just ended, here are some of the items that stand out, for good or bad.

Done Deals: The General Assembly took final action on a number of environmental priority items this year. They include the following:

--Transit finance: Gaining final passage on the last day of the session, HB 148, "Congestion Relief / Intermodal Transport Fund", could represent a major step forward for mass transit in North Carolina. The bill gives five urban counties in the Triangle and Triad regions the right to hold local referenda establishing an optional half-cent sales tax increment for transit finance—similar to the one which Mecklenburg County has used to underwrite its new light rail line. The other North Carolina counties can hold referenda on an optional quarter-cent sales tax increment for public transit funding. Wake, Durham, and Orange are expected to seek to use their new authority to boost the Triangle Transit Authority's proposed light rail system.

--Reservoir rules: Earlier in the session, environmental advocates achieved an acceptable compromise for rules to clean up Jordan Reservoir, through passage of HB 239, "Restore Water Quality in Jordan Reservoir".

--Energy action: The state's renewable energy tax credit (HB 512) was extended until 2016; and local governments were authorized to establish revolving loan funds for energy improvements (HB 1389). HB 1389 will authorize municipalities and counties to use federal stimulus and other funds to finance loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. These two bills will help to keep clean energy development moving in our state during a very tough economic period.

Lurking Menaces: Some worrisome proposals were approved by one chamber or the other, keeping them alive for consideration during the "short session" in 2010, including these:

--Beach bummer: SB 832, "CRC May Permit Terminal Groin", passed the Senate and awaits consideration in the House. This terrible bill would rip a gaping hole in the state's long-standing policy of prohibiting new hard structures on the oceanfront, and lead to accelerated loss of coastal beaches.

--Wind chill: SB 1068, "Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities", which in its current form would effectively ban commercial wind generation in the mountains, was approved by the Senate. The bill started life as a generally positive proposal to systemitize the regulation of wind energy development—which is still needed—but during debate in committee, amendments were added which took a darker turn. Fortunately, the House referred the legislation to the House Energy and Energy Efficiency Committee, to be followed by review in the House Finance Committee, with final action likely in 2010. Conservationists are hopeful of repairing the proposal during that process.

-- Rule-unmaking: HB 1335, "Moratorium on EMC Rule Making", ironically passed the Senate, not the House, in its current form. After almost passing the Senate as a blanket moratorium on all Environmental Management Commission (EMC) rulemaking, it was reduced to a moratorium on rules requiring monitoring of water pollution from hog farms. Hear no evil, see no evil...and evil.

Live Opportunities: On the plus side, there are other bills still alive which offer positive opportunities, including this one:

--Local campaigns public financing: CCNC is one of many citizen groups to endorse HB 120, "Public Municipal Campaigns", which would empower the State Board of Elections to authorize more cities or towns to conduct pilot projects in public financing of local campaigns. It passed the House but couldn't quite pull together the votes for passage on the Senate floor and was returned to committee there. Why is this an environmental issue? Well, consider—the vigorous opposition to this entirely voluntary campaign reform effort was led by development interests, which are perfectly happy with their current heavy financial influence on the election of local officials. There's still a chance to move this bill forward in next year's "short session".

Campaign Watch: Green Fields

Last month, CIB invited comments on contests to watch during this fall's municipal election campaigns. Here's what we've heard thus far:

Greensboro: Joel Landau, the general manager of Deep Roots Market, is running for the Greensboro City Council seat from District 4. His experience includes membership on the Greensboro Community Sustainability Council, the Greensboro Planning Board, and the Greensboro chapter of Cool Cities (which promotes local action on climate change). Greensboro's nonpartisan October 6 primary will narrow the field in District 4 to two candidates for the November 3 general election. More information on this and the other Greensboro council races is available at www.triadpolitics.info , a site containing information prepared by the Triad's alternative newsweekly, YES Weekly.

Raleigh: Raleigh city elections routinely feature environmental themes. This year, state environmental legend Bill Holman appears in advertising for the re-election campaigns of Raleigh City Councillors Nancy McFarlane and Russ Stephenson, under the theme "Environmental Stewardship for Raleigh". Among other issue references, McFarlane touts her involvement with efforts such as "Muddy Water Watch" and the push for stronger stormwater controls. Stephenson features his advocacy for sustainable design and the reform of water resources planning.

Cary: Our Cary correspondent points to a contest of interest in Cary Council District A, where three Democratic challengers face a Republican incumbent in this officially non-partisan race. Incumbent Jennifer Robinson was previously viewed as having "strong environmental leanings", but is seen as having more recently sided with "grow at all costs" interests. The three challengers include Cynthia Sinkez, seen as a supporter of environmental causes. Cary's city elections are October 6.

Winston-Salem: There are hot contests with environmental policy implications in several of this city's districts ("wards"), both in the September 15 primary and the November 3 general election. Of these, perhaps the most interesting is the Democratic primary in the North Ward. The North Ward's current representative, Nelson Malloy (perhaps the "greenest" member of the Winston-Salem City Council), is retiring due to ill health. Three Democrats (D.D. Adams, Wayne Patterson, and Phillip Carter) are competing to take his place, and environmental matters make their lists of concerns. Adams is currently a member of the city's Sustainability Commission. Patterson speaks of his support for more bike lanes and sidewalks, preservation of green space, and expanded use of biodiesel. All three Democrats are African-American. The Democratic primary winner will be heavily favored in the general election in this majority-minority district. More information on these candidates and all the other Winston-Salem contests also can be found at www.triadpolitics.info .

We know that there's more happening out there. Reader tips on where to look for local environmental campaign items are welcome.

Washington Watch: EPA Invites Clean Water Enforcement Plan Comments

The U.S. EPA announced this week that it has created an "online discussion forum" to receive public comments on its national enforcement program on clean water laws. Comments will be received online through August 28. Comments received will be considered by the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in its development of a strengthened enforcement action plan.

Information on development of the plan is available at:
Comments will be taken at http://blog.epa.gov.cwaactionplan.

Conservationists: Sustainable Energy Group Seeks Nominees

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) has announced that it is seeking nominations of individuals to serve three-year terms on its board of directors, beginning this October. NCSEA bills itself as a non-profit membership organization "working to ensure a sustainable future by promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Carolina through education, public policy and economic development."

Nominees must be NCSEA members (presumably, by the time they're nominated), and nominations will be accepted until 5 p.m. August 25. The NCSEA website is www.energync.org, and more info on the nominations process is available from Julie Robinson, NCSEA's Director of Marketing & Communications, at julie@energync.org.

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