House budget guts critical conservation programs

Clean Water Fund cut 80 percent

RALEIGH – State conservation and environmental leaders say that the impacts of the proposed House budget would be dire for the environment—eroding protections for air quality, rivers and streams, and green spaces statewide.

“Simply put: this budget is awful for North Carolina’s environment,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, director of Environment North Carolina.  “It all but erases funds for protecting the natural areas that make our state special, and it takes hundreds of environmental cops off the beat.”

“This budget would stall efforts to expand and develop our newest state parks—from Carvers Creek to Chimney Rock State Park—not to mention countless city and county parks statewide.   It would close state educational forests in Wilkes and Bladen Counties.  And it would leave treasured green spaces—from those along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the west to portions of the Green Swamp in the east—vulnerable to development.

“If approved, the budget would also mean dirtier air and water.   Staff people in regional offices of the state’s environmental agency play a big role in enforcing environmental laws in an expansive state like North Carolina.  Yet the House proposes to scale back these offices, ending hundreds of frontline environmental jobs, filled now by men and women who help ensure our tap water is clean and our air is safe to breathe.  Lawmakers are also proposing to eliminate the state’s well- water testing program—designed to protect residents from potential harm to their drinking water.

“This budget is bad news for our environment—today and for the future.   We ask budget writers to reconsider, and restore funds to protect our air, water, and open spaces,” said Ouzts.

The Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which makes grants to local governments, state agencies and conservation nonprofits to help finance projects that address water pollution, is reduced by 80 percent from its current funding. That is on top of a fifty percent reduction that occurred in last year’s budget.

“We went from a historical level of funding of 100 million dollars to just 10 million in this budget and most of that money is earmarked for debt service and wastewater projects – leaving just one million dollars for conservation land acquisition,” said Katherine Skinner, director of the NC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “This is an economic issue.  Protecting land is a major driver behind our $17 billion tourism industry.”

“For the past three decades, North Carolina elected officials on both sides of the aisle have been looking to the future – creating opportunities to protect our environment through land and water conservation while balancing growth and development,” said Skinner.  “We understand that the Legislature had to make tough decisions, but we have to find to a better avenue to balance the fiscal health and environmental health of this state.”