There was a time when Republicans established the Environmental Protection Agency and considered stewardship of the environment a cornerstone of assuring America’s future. Those days seem very far away as Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory, are increasingly rejecting environmental protection and empirical science.
Prior to McCrory’s becoming governor, North Carolina had a solid reputation for environmental stewardship grounded in constructive engagement between two co-equal state agencies. The Department of Commerce is the welcome mat and advocate for new and expanding businesses. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the enforcer of the National Environmental Protection Act and the advocate for those affected by the externalities of new and expanding businesses.
Each agency has a noble mission that benefits the state. Pure environmentalism can hamper the creation of economic opportunity and job growth. Pure economic development can permanently scar a landscape, cause harm to people’s health and eradicate qualities of life and community that attract business.
A balance must be struck between competing interests and missions. The role of the Department of Commerce and DENR is to prepare their best briefs and to constructively engage interested parties and the public to help determine this balance. They also must articulate the trade-offs that inevitably occur when competing interests interact.
DENR used to have a straightforward mission statement that supported this effort: “To conserve and protect North Carolina’s natural resources and to maintain an environment of high quality by providing valuable services that consistently support and benefit the health and well-being of all citizens of our state.”
New DENR Secretary John Skvarla, a McCrory appointee, has revised the department’s mission statement to fundamentally change its role. The changes are significant and deserve attention from anyone who cares about science and conservation...