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Division of Water Resources staff to get details on DENR restructuring, cuts

The director of the state water quality and resources program will address section leadership Wednesday morning about the recent changes the program is going through – including restructuring and possible staff cuts.

At the beginning of August, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources consolidated its Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources. The move brought Water Quality under the umbrella of Water Resources.

“Tom Reeder, the (water resources) division director, will be addressing his section chiefs about consolidation of the two divisions,” said Jamie Kritzer, a spokesman for DENR. He was not able to elaborate.

In the coming months, the Division of Water Resources’ leadership will look at what regulations and practices can be trimmed to make the combined program more efficient.

The restructuring could shrink the water quality program, making it more difficult to enforce regulations, environmental advocates say. And it adds to work the division must already do to get up to Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The Division of Water Resources will need to cut $2 million this year, as stipulated in the state budget. DENR has said that the restructuring could include staff cuts, but not how many. It isn’t clear if the Wednesday meeting will include talk of layoffs.

Morning Memo: N.C. Realtors launch new effort against tax plan

REALTORS TO LAUNCH NEW TV CAMPAIGN AGAINST TAX PLAN: The N.C. Realtors Association is preparing to launch a second, big-dollar campaign to challenge the N.C. Senate's tax overhaul efforts in coming days. The new TV ad campaign says the Senate tax plan to repeal the state deduction for mortgage interest will hurt middle class families. The group's strategist Chris Sinclair said the TV buy is in the "hundreds of thousands" and will run for three weeks. The realtors began the campaign a month ago with TV and online ads and the total cost is likely to approach $1million, he said. "The realtors believe this is a watershed moment for homeowners," Sinclair said.

McCRORY TO FETE BIG CAMPAIGN DONOR: Gov. Pat McCrory lists one public event on his schedule Friday: a retirement party for William "Bill" Shumaker, the CEO at Kewaunee Scientific. Shumaker and his wife donated $11,000 to McCrory's campaign in the 2012 cycle and another $2,000 in his losing 2008 bid, according to campaign finance reports. McCrory resigned from Kewaunee's board of directors on Jan. 5, the day he was sworn in as governor. The company paid him $53,168 in total compensation in the year that ended April 2012, federal corporate records show.

***Happy Friday and thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- a North Carolina political news tipsheet. Send news and tips to***

Jordan Lake protections would be repealed under bill

A Senate committee on Tuesday morning approved a bill that would repeal environmental protections at Jordan Lake that were enacted in 2009.

SB515, by Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington, and Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Greensboro, would require the state to study what the best approach is to improve water quality. Results of that study would be presented to the legislature for consideration next year.

The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club said the protections in place now are the result of years of studies, negotiations and discussions.

The bill also directs the state to focus on treating and improving water quality in the lake rather than on restricting activities upsteam. Gunn said indications are that the current rules have done nothing to improve the lake, which is a source of drinking water for close to half a million people in the Triangle.

Skvarla crafts new DENR mission statement, raising Sierra Club questions

John Skvarla, the new head of the state’s environmental protection department, continues to make environmentalists a little nervous.

On Tuesday, he issued a mission statement cautioning that environmental science “contains a diversity of opinion” and that “all public programs and scientific conclusions must be reflective of input from a variety of legitimate, diverse and thoughtful perspectives.”

The statement comes after comments Skvarla has made in news media interviews indicating he believes climate change is a controversy that remains unsettled. Although most scientists think that it is, there are some who dispute that there is global warming or, if there is, that it isn’t caused by human activity.

DENR Mission Statement.PDF

Environmental groups pick green candidates

Environment North Carolina has endorsed a slate of pro-green candidates, and the state chapter of the Sierra Club has dispatched three staffers to work on four key legislative races.

Environment North Carolina’s picks include Wake County candidates Irv Portman, a Democrat running against Republican Tamara Barringer for an open seat in House District 17; Democrat Jim Messina, running against incumbent Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican in District 41; and Keith Karlsson, a Democrat running for an open seat in District 49 against Republican Jim Fulghum.

Sierra Club makes unusual Supreme Court endorsement

The N.C. chapter of the Sierra Club has waded into unusual territory with today's endorsement of state appellate court Judge Sam Ervin IV for N.C. Supreme Court.

It's the first time the environmental organization has endorsed a candidiate running for the state's highest court.

Sierra Club announces endorsements in statewide, local races

The North Carolina Sierra Club has thrown its weight behind 59 candidates running for a seat in the General Assembly, statewide office, and local races.

"These candidates have demonstrated their commitment to protecting North Carolina’s environment," said Ken Brame, N.C. Sierra Club political chair. “Our members are concentrated on moving North Carolina forward by embracing clean energy and finding ways to protect our state’s air, water, and natural places.

Keep reading for a complete list of politicians that picked up the endorsements.

Fracking foes keep up pressure on Gov. Perdue to veto bill

Fracking opponents are continuing to apply pressure on Gov. Bev Perdue to veto legislation intended to create a natural gas production industry in the state, John Murawski reports.

The Sierra Club and Clean Water for North Carolina delivered 77 signatures to the governor last week, releasing the letters today. Forty-four are local business owners and 33 are elected officials.

Morning Roundup: Less trees along roads, car insurance changes possible

This edition of the Morning Roundup is all about travel -- particularly the roads and cars on them:

From Craig Jarvis: Not only will billboard companies be able to cut down many more trees than they could before a new law loosened restrictions, under newly approved rules taking effect in March they won't have to replace them, either.

Environmentalists and others fear thousands of roadside trees that are decades old will be lost as a result. The General Assembly approved a bill expanding the clear-cutting zone around billboards in June. The state Rules Review Commission approved temporary rules last week. Read more here.

From Lynn Bonner: Legislators are taking another look at limiting regulation of car insurance rates with proposals that companies say would get rid of a surcharge most drivers pay. The problem is, there's no agreement on how to do it, or even that anything should change.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin argues that none of the ideas legislators are considering would be better for the state's drivers and would just give insurance companies ways to make more money. Read more here.

Council revives efficiency standards

The state Building Code Council usually doesn't get a lot of notice unless they get people upset.

The council did that last month when it narrowly defeated proposed building codes that would improve energy efficiency, voting to delay them until 2015.

The council decided on the five-year delay after home builders raised questions about how much the tighter energy standards would add to the cost of a new house.
Home builders said the additional costs could range from $10,000 to $20,000 a house, while a study from Appalachian State University put the additional cost at $2,400 for a $180,000 home.

Eleven environmental groups, including Environment North Carolina, the state Sierra Club, and the Conservation Council of North Carolina, sent Gov. Bev Perdue a letter last week asking her to intervene. The letter quoted Perdue's own promises in a letter the U.S. Energy Secretary last year, where she said the state would adopt a code for residential buildings that met or exceeded an international energy conservation code.

The council, which sets minimum building standards, is made up of governors' appointees.

The council decided today in another close vote, after much discussion about Robert's Rules of Order and many questions of its lawyer, to revive the issue and send it back to a committee,

Council chairman Dan Tingen didn't want the proposal brought back, but suggested another petition to accomplish the same goals could have been introduced at the council's December meeting. A council vote overturned his ruling.

Tingen said after the meeting that he had received a call from Perdue's office reminding him how interested she is in energy efficiency.

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