First-term Democrat Patsy Keever, representing Buncombe County’s 115th District in the N.C. General Assembly, became the primary sponsor last week of a new initiative to address safe slope construction in Western North Carolina.
“This one is a study bill,” Keever said about HB 454, which would require the Environmental Management Commission to compile information on slope construction in mountanous areas of the state. “We hope to have hearings throughout the region to address the issues, hear from all the stakeholders and have some sense of what is needed and what might actually pass,” she explained by email. Keever was joined by three other WNC representatives as primary sponsors: Republican Chuck McGrady of Henderson County and Democrats Susan Fisher of Buncombe County and Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey counties. The legislation was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations.
Rapp and Fisher have weighed in on slope construction before as primary sponsors of a bill in 2007 (HB 1756) that would have required local governments to regulate artificial-slope development and would have required disclosure of landslide hazards to purchasers of property in vulnerable areas. That regulatory bill ultimately died in committee.
Keever is also the primary sponsor this term of HB 135, an energy-efficiency bill that saw a companion bill filed in the Senate last week — SB 367. The bills seek to establish tiered electricity rates for residential, commercial, public and industrial customers in order to encourage energy efficiency, and would create economic incentives for certain energy-efficient projects and residential appliances. The Senate bill was sponsored by Ellie Kinnard, Democrat of Orange/Person counties.
“I think [the companion bill] will help [my] bill have credibility,” Keever said of her own effort, which was filed in the House on Feb. 21. It is currently in the Committee on Public Utilities. Keever’s co-sponsors on HB 135 included Fisher and Rapp. “I doubt that we will make much headway until after the budget and the redistricting,” she said. “But it’s out there; we can talk about it and seek more support for its eventual passage.”
Keever was asked about the overall effect she perceives of several other environmental bills this session that have sought to undo particular environmental actions, such as HB 62/SB 64 (now ratified) denying the reclassification of Boylston Creek — a French Broad tributary — in order to keep it from becoming a designated trout stream, and SB 308 prohibiting state regulation or enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions unless so required by federal law. Other environmental bills would make major changes to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, such as SB 388 transferring the Forestry and Forestry Council to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (see below) and SB 229 moving the Soil and Water department also to DACS.
Keever’s assessment of the Legislature’s environmental climate: “I see the Republican legislators as dismantling the good work that has been done to protect the environment in the past. Their commitment to deregulate is frightening on many levels.”
“It’s a tough environment in Raleigh,” said Keever, who began her first elected term there in January; she had been appointed last September by the governor to finish the term of Democrat Bruce Goforth, who resigned his seat in July 2010. “I am glad I am in the Legislature but have little hope of improving the lives of our citizens this term,” Keever elaborated. “No Democrat has power. On a positive note, the Democrats in the House are standing firmly together to uphold whatever vetoes the governor may make. We are determined to protect as many of the programs which support our citizens, our natural resources and our public schools as we can.”
Other actions by WNC legislators last week included the following:
HB 412 (Study Use of Alternative Medicine): Would require the Department of Health and Human Services, Divisions of Public Health, to study the benefits and risks in allowing licensed health-care practitioners to use alternative medicine in treating patients. Report due December, 2011. Passed first reading; refererred to Rules, Calendar and Operations. Co-sponsors: Fisher, Keever.
HB 422 (No High-Speed Rail Money from Federal Government): Would prohibit the Department of Transportation from accepting federal funds for a high-speed rail project without explicit authorization of the General Assembly. Passed first reading; referred to Transportation. Primary sponsor: Republican Phillip Frye of Spruce Pine.
HB 476 (Protect Galax & Venus Flytrap/WRC Rule Fines): Adds protections regarding harvest of these plants and increases civili penalty for such actions. Filed. Primary sponsor: Mitch Gillespie, Republican of Burke/McDowell counties.
SB 388 (Transfer Forestry and Forest Council to DACS): Moves forestry services to the Department of Agriculture from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, giving Agriculture the responsibilities of forest management, forest-fire prevention, reforestation, protection of land and water supplies through forest protection, care of state forests and parks and other state recreational areas including parks. Passed first reading; referred to Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources. Primary sponsor, WNC Republican Ralph Hise of the 47th District; co-sponsor, Republican Tom Apodaca, 48th District),
SB 430 (Joint Resolution — LRC/Study Uranium Mining Near Roanoke River): Authorizes Legislative Research Committee to study near- and long-term economic, environmental and agricultural impacts of a proposal to conduct uranium mining in Virginia in the center of the Roanoke River Basin. Filed. Co-sponsor, Doug Berger, Democrat of Youngsville.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor