NC Senate Passes Bill That Cuts Environmental Regulations
On Friday, state senators passed the Regulatory Reform Act. It covers everything from oyster permits to Venus flytraps. It also includes a few sections on coastal management and isolated wetlands that environmental advocates say they're concerned about.
Representative Paul Stam of Wake County voted for the bill because he says the rules make more sense now.
"The bigger picture is that it alters regulations so that they're more understandable and fairer to the people of North Carolina," Stam says.
But some environmental groups are concerned about the changes. Mary Maclean Asbill is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"This bill really reads like sort of an industry wish list," Asbill says. "You can almost sort of link certain special provisions to certain special groups asking for them."
One of the sections reduces protections for isolated wetlands – making it easier for developers to build on isolated wetlands on the coast. The bill lets developers demolish up to an acre before stricter regulations kick in.
"Once they're gone, they're gone," Asbill says. "So if developers go in and develop all of the isolated wetlands east of I-95 in the next couple of years, it won't matter if the next legislature comes in and fixes this. It'll be too late."
Another section of the bill makes the permitting process for coastal developers a lot easier. In the past, permit applications could be frozen if anyone challenged a coastal permit and the state agency agreed that it was worthy of a hearing. Now, only a judge can freeze a permit application in the 20 coastal counties where the rule applies.