Brown’s bill was one of
several regulatory efforts that fell victim to a contentious
end-of-session showdown between the state House and Senate that left
undone a number of major pieces of legislation before the lawmakers
adjourned last week.
Other victims were
competing versions of bills to further trim, weaken or kill state
regulations. One of them included legislation, introduced by Sen. Bill
Cook, R - Beaufort, that would have allowed the National Park Service
to pump standing water over the dunes and into the ocean to alleviate
flooding in areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
On the last afternoon of the session, Rep. Pat
McElraft, R-Carteret, was one of several legislators expressing
confidence that the House and Senate had reached a deal on a package of
provisions drawn from four bills on regulations.
“We got reg reform done,” McElraft said as she walked on to the House floor after a caucus meeting. “It’s not a bad bill.”
House and Senate conferees had worked late into
the night to find a combination of provisions from that could pass both
Much like prior years, the final result involved
House members whittling away at the Senate’s more aggressive policy
changes. McElraft said the most controversial items had been removed
from the compromise.
Among the more controversial items on this year’s
list of Senate options were the end of the electronics recycling
program, restrictions on wind-energy projects and several coastal
provisions loosening regulations on stormwater, beach re-nourishment
projects and sandbag rules.
What came out of those negotiations remains
unknown. The resulting bill never made it to the floor of either
chamber after the surprise rejection of two bills favored by Senate
leaders blew up the end-of-session deal-making between the two chambers.
In a post on his blog, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, offered a rare, candid look at what happened.
“All but a handful of issues were resolved,
leaving House conferees sharply divided over a provision relating to
the internet sale of alcohol by distilleries, with House conferees not
fully supportive of a compromise on repeal of the ban on electronic
devices in landfills, and no agreement on a new law regulating the
installation of wind farms in the potential flight paths of military
aircraft,” McGrady wrote. “Being one of the conferees, I went to bed on
the last morning expecting that those issues would be resolved and we’d
pass another broad regulatory reform bill. It didn’t happen.”
McGrady said the final round of discussions never
took place after an Asheville redistricting bill, backed by Senate
Rules Chair Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and a Jacksonville occupancy tax
bill backed by Brown were rejected by the House.
The Senate instead moved quickly to wrap up its
work after leaving the regulatory bills and a handful of others on the
table. McGrady said Senate leaders declined to consider a last-minute
House plan that would have approved the Senate’s wind-farm provisions
and delayed consideration of electronics recycling until the long
session, a goal of House negotiators.
Molly Diggins, director of the North Carolina
Sierra Club, said the session seemed to represent a turning point, in
which House members openly rebelled against the Senate’s
heavy-handedness in pushing through bills.
“This may be the session where the House said ‘we’ve had enough,’” Diggins said yesterday.
TURBULENCE OVER TURBINES
The wind-energy bill was a top priority for Brown, who made clear in a statement Thursday that he wasn’t giving up.
Brown and seven others, including coastal
legislators Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and Reps. McElraft,
George Cleveland, R-Onslow, and Phil Shepard, R-Onslow, said they plan
to re-introduce the measure early next session and mount another fight
This year’s bill, The Military Operations
Protection Act, was pitched by the senator as a way to make sure
projects aren’t built that are incompatible with military flight paths.
But critics have called it an attack on wind energy since it eliminates
much of the state, including major portions of Eastern North Carolina,
as potential sites for wind energy projects.
As “Coastal Review Online” has reported, the
military wasn’t consulted about the need for the bill. Nor was it
involved in its drafting.
The bill, introduced late in the session after
the final budget compromise had been struck, relied on a series of maps
drawn up at the behest of the McCrory administration’s new
cabinet-level Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The maps
detail military training routes and other military-related air traffic
that could be in conflict with wind turbines, tall buildings and other
structures. The maps have not been officially endorsed by military
Last week, while House negotiators continued to balk at the proposal, Brown and other supporters pressed their case.
“You will not likely be faced with a more
important choice with regard to the military in your careers here,”
Brown wrote in an email Friday morning and sent to each member of
the House. “Choose wisely.”
In the email, Brown called the bill a
“common-sense effort” to make sure tall structures aren’t built that
would be incompatible with training routes and he railed against wind
“Choose not to support HB 763 and watch as
wind turbine projects claim our landscapes. Stand by and watch while
these projects create few to no jobs and survive on the backs of
taxpayer subsidies. Stand by and watch while energy from these projects
is diverted to non-North Carolina citizens (as in the case of one such
project where Virginia citizens are the beneficiaries). Stand by and be
rendered helpless in the face of decisions in Washington to relocate
our military missions due to incompatible use from surrounding lands.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said she is not surprised to hear that the wind energy bill could return next year.
“The proponents of the bill, especially Senator
Brown, really want to prohibit wind energy in Eastern North Carolina
and they’re going to continue to pursue it.”
Harrison said she was glad to see the unraveling
of the regulatory bill compromise. Since it would have been wrapped
into a last-minute conference report, she said, the wind-energy section
would have been voted on without even a committee hearing in the House.
“It wouldn’t have been appropriate for us to enact it,” she said.
Harrison said in the long session there may be
time to address some of the issues with the process for Department of
Defense review of wind projects, but the legislature shouldn’t adopt a
wholesale set of prohibitions.
“This state has significant wind-energy resources and we ought not be shutting it down,” she said.
Advocates for wind energy called the bill an
attempt to stop projects and unnecessary given the military’s role in
approval of projects.
“Communities in Eastern North Carolina should be
able to attract investment from the wind industry through the
comprehensive permitting process adopted by the legislature in 2013.
That process requires input from the military,” Melissa Dickerson,
coastal coordinator for the North Carolina Sierra Club, said after the
Senate approved the bill in late June. “The proposed legislation adds
unnecessary complexity and uncertainty for businesses navigating the
wind permitting process.”
STUDIES FOR THE INTERIM
Several of the provisions in the regulatory bills
called for environmental studies and changes to environmental reports.
While those did not survive the session, a number of studies woven into
the budget and other legislation remain.
Grady McCallie, policy analyst with the North
Carolina Conservation Network, said the failure to reach a compromise
on the regulatory bills was probably helpful when it came to the
“A number of the studies in the bills had due
dates in December, which is just not enough time for them to be
properly done,” he said. One would have required a comprehensive look
at all state landfill regulations, he said.
One of the studies that did pass both chambers is
a look at nutrient offsets, which McCallie said could lay the
groundwork for the state to set up a system of mitigation banking for
The budget bill also calls for continuation of an
ongoing aquaculture study and $500,000 a year for the next four years
for studies commissioned through UNC-Chapel Hill on nutrient-management
strategies for Jordan and Fall lakes. The state’s Department of
Environmental Quality is also given two years to produce a study on
on-site treatments for nutrient management at the lakes including
a review of algaecide and phosphorus‑locking technologies.
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)