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NC Had Fourth Largest Environment Funding Cuts In Country

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A new report says North Carolina had the fourth highest budget cuts in the country over the last decade when it comes to environmental protection.

Between 2008 and 2018, North Carolina’s state government cut funding for its environmental agency’s programs meant to reduce air and water pollution by 34%. Funding went from $136.3 million to $90 million dollars, when adjusting for inflation. The state also cut its staff levels by 35%. That data comes in a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group. The group used budget data from 48 states to compare how governments have funded their environmental agencies in the past decade. And North Carolina’s cuts ranked near the top. For instance, the state’s Water Quality Lab went from 47 full time equivalent staff to about 28. And its wetlands staff went from eight people to zero over the same ten years.

The report only looked at programs related to pollution control, and not other functions like parks funding or costs related to large, one-time projects.

Drew Ball, the state director for Environment North Carolina, spoke about the impact of these budget cuts.

"Here in North Carolina, we’re seeing less testing," Ball said. "Less water quality testing, less air monitoring, across the state. We’re relying more on the EPA for our testing, which is slowing the process."

Staffers with the Environmental Integrity Project noted that since 2008, the federal EPA has had its own budget cut by 16%. And over the same time as North Carolina’s cuts, the state budget increased by 8%.

A spokeswoman for North Carolina's environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Quality, acknowledged the state has seen "deep staff and budget cuts in the past decade," but that the agency was comitted to "protect(ing) North Carolina’s communities and environment even with limited resources." And while the Environmental Integrity Project claimed it submitted a draft of its findings to each state agency for comment for publication, the spokeswoman was not aware of a draft that had been submitted to DEQ for review.

Michael Falero is a radio reporter, currently covering voting and the 2020 election. He previously covered environment and energy for WFAE. Before joining WFAE in 2019, Michael worked as a producer for a number of local news podcasts based in Charlotte and Boston. He's a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop intensive on Cape Cod and UNC Chapel Hill.