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Advocacy group says two-thirds of legislature failed environment

Environment North Carolina says 112 lawmakers received a failing grade by their marks this session with only one Republican receiving a passing score.

The group's 2013 legislative scorecard put 65 percent of the 170-member N.C. General Assembly in the failing category based on nine contested votes in the House and 13 in the Senate. Nearly two-thirds of the Senate didn't pass the environmental advocacy group's test.

“This year, the Senate approved extreme measures to rush the state into fracking, do away with protections for our beaches, rivers and lakes, and dismantle our environmental commissions,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina state director, in a statement. “Given all the Senate’s attacks on the environment this year, their dismal scores are disappointing, but not all that surprising.”

DENR head John Skvarla riffs on fracking, agency layoffs, job creation

John Skvarla, North Carolina's top environmental regulator, said Monday he is overseeing 15 reorganizations simultaneously at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in an effort to streamline the agency he has been running since January.

Skvarla said he doesn't know how many people will be laid off from the 4,000-employee agency, but noted that the purpose of the reorg is not to maximize body counts. Rather, Skvarla said, his goal is to make DENR more responsive in its dual mission of protecting the environment and growing the economy.

"Historically, the philosophy has been that corporate America is the enemy," Skvarla told a lunchtime crowd of several dozen at the conservative John Locke Foundation in Raleigh.

"We can't take people who are going to build the economy and treat them like the enemy," Skvarla said. "Everything we do in DENR has to involve some consideration of economics."

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.

Republicans haven't represented the people, House Democrats say in last presser

House Minority Leader Larry Hall on Friday said Republicans had not kept their promise of job creation this session, during the House Democratic Caucus’ last press conference of the year.

"We end this session knowing we did nothing to create jobs, we don't have that prosperity," he said. "We created a tax cut for the millionaires and raised the taxes on the least of these."

Caucus members rebuked the other party’s efforts, asserting that the state GOP has not adequately represented the real people of North Carolina.

Senate, House approve Jordan Lake bill

The House passed the Jordan Lake rules bill on Thursday night and the Senate approved it early Friday on a 28-13 vote, sending it to the governor.

The bill leaves in place current rules governing environmental protections at Jordan Lake, and delays for three years rules that have not yet been adopted. The state will pay for a water clean-up demonstration project involving mechanical devices.

Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club in North Carolina, issued a statement after the final approval saying the three-year delay will pollute the lake further.

"We have a plan in place to clean up Jordan Lake," Diggins said. "But now lawmakers in Raleigh have needlessly delayed that plan."

She said the pilot project, at a cost of nearly $2 million, will not stop pollution from flowing into the lake, which provides drinking water for more than 300,000 people in the Triangle.

Senate gives a final thumbs-up to environmental regulations overhaul

A bill called job creation by its supporters and destructive of the environment by its opposition was given final approval by the Senate early Friday.

House Bill 74, which passed in a 27-14 vote, still needs one last vote from the House later on Friday morning.

Major regulatory reform gets tentative O.K. from Senate, House

UPDATED: Regulatory reform passed in the House in a 76-36 vote after arguments against it from members of both parties.

A big kahuna of a regulatory reform bill got Senate approval on Thursday.

House Bill 74 has 60 sections, about a dozen of which have been criticized by environmental groups, municipalities and counties, and lawmakers.

Sweeping regulatory reform legislation taking shape

Some sort of regulatory reform could emerge from the General Assembly in its waning days, but right now the details are a fast-moving target.

On Wednesday, a new version unexpectedly materialized in the Senate Rules Committee, adding more than two dozen new sections to a bill that the House had put together.

Both bills – SB112 and HB74 – address a grab-bag of regulatory issues, from environmental to workplace and more. Since HB74 is so extensive and committee members didn’t have copies of it until the meeting, the bill will return to Rules on Thursday and likely voted on.

N.C. House panel delays, not repeals, Jordan Lake rules

A N.C. House committee narrowly voted Thursday to delay a costly environmental cleanup of Jordan Lake in a classic regional water war pitting development interests against environmental concerns.

The House Environment Committee voted 12-9 to delay the lake cleanup by three years. Spooked by the potential $2 billion cleanup bill, lawmakers are considering a cheaper alternative: technology that will stir the lake’s water and prevent algae from forming.

Morning Memo: As House votes on abortion bill, what will McCrory do?

ABORTION DEBATE DOMINATES AGENDA: N.C. House lawmakers will focus on social issues Thursday, scheduling a three-hour debate on an abortion bill that critics say will restrict access but supporters argue is aimed at safety standards. Republicans will get one hour to push the measure while Democrats will get two hours to rebutt the controversial bill that is putting North Carolina in the national spotlight along with Texas. The House convenes at 11 a.m.

VETO THREAT: Pandering or real? Republican Gov. Pat McCrory publicly warned on Wednesday morning that he would reject the Senate’s bill unless his public health agency’s concerns about it were resolved. The threat came even as his administration and key House members were signing off on a rewrite of the bill, which was unveiled less than two hours later in a legislative committee. His statement came at 8:30 a.m. A House committee took up the new bill two hours later. The move allowed McCrory to appear like a hero to womens rights groups who had pushed him to uphold his campaign pledge not to sign new abortion restrictions into law. But his legislative team likewise worked with House members to craft the new measure those groups oppose. The question now: Will he sign or allow the newest bill to become law?

***Read a scene-setter on the abortion legislation and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

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