NC Gov to sign budget that’s “mostly good” for environment

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said this week that he will sign the $25.9 billion 2021-22 budget into law.

“I will sign this budget because, on balance, the good outweighs the bad,” Cooper said at a news conference.

For Sound Rivers and our clean-water advocates, the good includes:

  • Removal of harmful stormwater/buffer and wetlands provisions that would have exempted more than a million acres of wetlands from state permitting requirement and prevented local governments from doing more than the minimum to control stormwater or protect streambank buffers that slow floodwaters and keep pollution out of our rivers.
  • Removal of a provision that would have redirected Environmental Enhancement Grant funds away from restoration/conservation projects to the Division of Public Instruction to be spent on “environmental enhancements” by schools.
  • Removal of a provision prohibiting communities from adopting tree-protection ordinances that regulate the removal of trees from private properties without the express authorization of the General Assembly.
  • $103 million allocated for stormwater projects.
  • $1.05 billion allocated for drinking water/wastewater grants, predominantly for aging, struggling infrastructure.
  • $20 million allocated for a flood-resiliency blueprint.
  • Funding for the Modmon/FerryMon project for continued sampling on the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound.

Not all the news is good, however. Harmful provisions in the budget include:

  • More funding for the stream debris removal program, and more restrictions on North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s oversight of debris removal. A new stream rehabilitation section set up under Division of Soil and Water Conservation could give even more leeway on the issue.

“I’m concerned by language in the budget, but time will tell what the intent here is,” said Sound Rivers’ Executive Director Heather Deck.

On the federal level, the infrastructure bill designates North Carolina as a priority state to receive funding for coastal and flood resiliency; $440 million has been allocated to the state’s clean-water revolving fund.

“We’ll be keeping close eye on this as some potential projects may be more harmful than beneficial for flooding, but all in all we are very pleased with both the NC budget and the passage of the federal infrastructure bill,”  Deck said.

The bill also funds a sweeping broadband expansion in the state.