Budgets are supposed to be focused on taxes and spending. But the North Carolina Senate has a reputation for sliding major policy changes into its spending plan. This year is no exception. It contains a plan for a major overhaul to a key water quality regulation.
Last year, the Senate tried to make teacher pay increases contingent on teachers giving up tenure. That was partially struck down by the courts.
This year, on page 111 of the 187 page budget, you’ll find a section that tosses out water quality regulations for runoff that flows into freshwater streams and reservoirs.
Specifically, it’s what’s known as a nutrient management strategy, dealing with fertilizers. They contain nitrogen, phosphorus and other things that in excess can render that water undrinkable and cause algae blooms that kill fish.
The budget states that, “Existing nutrient management strategies have shown little to no improvement in water quality and have created an increased regulatory and economic burden in the billions of dollars to the state.”
So the plan calls for the current regulations to be ended for key watersheds, including the Catawba, by 2019. And it calls on the Environmental Management Commission to come up with new rules. That commission is made up of 15 political appointees, designated by the governor, Senate pro temp and speaker of the House.
The NC Conservation Network says the proposal would “harm water quality and violate the federal Clean Water Act.”
The Sierra Club likened the plan to a sledgehammer. Adding “it’s as if the Senate has forgotten how important our waterways are for tourism, recreation, and drinking water.”