N&O mischaracterizes regulatory reform in attempt to associate Republican legislature with Duke ash spill

Toward the end of an otherwise informative article on Duke’s coal ash spill in Monday’s Raleigh News and Observer, reporter John Murawski gratuitously throws in the following statement, obliquely suggesting that Republican regulatory reform could have lead to the spill:

The move to tighten oversight of coal ash ponds met resistance here as Republicans gained control of North Carolina’s legislature in the 2010 elections. A bill titled “An act to increase regulatory efficiency in order to balance job creation and environmental protection” required the state “to reduce the burden” on regulated companies and disallowed state safety standards that are stricter than federal standards.

And then went on to quote former DENR head under Governor Perdue, Dee Freeman, as saying:

If you can’t be more stringent than the federal regulations, then it presents a real dilemma.

But the fact is the legislation referred to does not “disallow state safety standards that are stricter than federal standards.” What the reform legislation says is that the regulatory agency, in this case DENR, cannot unilaterally impose regulations that are more strict than the federal government requires. Such regulations must be approved by the legislature. In other words, regulations in North Carolina that are more stringent than, for example, those that are implemented by President Obama’s EPA, can be as stringent as elected law makers want them to be, which may be more or less stringent than what would be decided by bureaucrats acting on their own preferences.

If Murawski had recognized this it might have lead him to a follow-up question for Mr. Freeman: “at any time, between October 2011 when the reform was implemented and January 2013 when you left did you go to the legislature and suggest that they approve new regulations in this area?” I do not know the answer to this question but it seems to be the obvious question to ask, as least if your goal was not to pin something on the Republicans.

 

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