I don’t believe the people running the Department of Environment and Natural Resources don’t care about protecting the environment. It’s just that they care about protecting businesses more. At least that’s the impression left by John Skvarla and his team.
Throughout the coal ash debacle, Skvarla and company sided with Duke Energy instead of environmentalists. Last week revealed that he’s opposed to additional regulations on ground water contamination. Now, it appears, his agency was at odds with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency when it issued a slap on the wrist instead of a harsher penalty for violations at coal ash ponds.
Before the spill, Skvarla ridiculed the environmental community. Governor Pat McCrory has made reducing regulations a centerpiece of his legislation. And, now in the emails released from DENR, it appears that Duke Energy expected more lenient treatment. In response to questions about heavy metal released into streams, Duke’s chief lobbyist noted, “…We were looking for a kinder, gentler regulatory framework according to the governor, etc.”
In addition, it appears that the administration was at odds with its regulators in the field. According the emails released, DENR employees couldn’t get information or clarification about new rules. The picture from the emails seems to reinforce the one portrayed by employees Susan Wilson and Amy Adams when they left last year. They both indicated that under Skvarla, DENR had lost sight of its mission.
I’m not sure that they have lost sight of the mission. I think they are consciously trying to change that mission. They have so convinced themselves that environmental regulations are bad and businesses are good, that they’re looking for reasons not to enforce rules.
And Pat McCrory has been absent in the debate. Just like he checked out of the debacle over at the Department of Health and Human Services, he’s exerting no leadership over DENR. It seems a head-in-the-sand approach to governing. If he doesn’t pay attention to the problems, maybe they will just go away.
It’s a mess of an administration. In 2016, I hope they all just go away, too.