Some of the most important decisions a new governor and legislative leaders make concern who they select to run state agencies and legislative committees.
That is especially true when it comes to the governor and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR). Both play critical roles in protecting and preserving our air, our water and our land — on the coast and statewide. DEQ, of course, is charged with ensuring that environmental safeguards are enforced fairly and effectively. Among other important tasks, DNCR is entrusted with protecting and preserving our state’s parks, its critical habitat and other wild places that are so important to our state’s heritage and its economy.
Recently, Gov. Roy Cooper announced his team to lead these agencies. And while it is still too early to judge Cooper’s environmental record, he deserves credit for choosing a trio of qualified leaders. These appointments must still be confirmed by the General Assembly, which recently announced its process for the nominees’ confirmations.
At DEQ, new secretary Michael Regan has important policy experience from his time at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as with the Environmental Defense Fund. The General Assembly will hold a committee hearing on Regan’s appointment March 8.
At DNCR, Cooper’s choice of former New Hanover Rep. Susi Hamilton to lead the agency was paired with the selection of Reid Wilson as the agency’s assistant secretary. With Hamilton, Cooper selected a practical, experienced legislator familiar with coastal issues. While Hamilton’s conservation experience is limited, she will get good counsel from Wilson, who has spent his career protecting the environment, most recently as executive director of the Conservation Trust of North Carolina — one of the state’s leading conservation organizations. Hamilton’s committee hearing is scheduled for Feb. 16.
In the legislature, committee leaders guide the entire House or Senate’s work on environmental policy and funding. These legislators include Rep. Pat McElraft (Carteret, Jones), who again this year heads up both the policy committee and the appropriations committee that consider and fund the state’s environmental issues and programs. In the Senate, Sen. Bill Cook (Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans) also co-chairs both the Senate environmental policy committee and its environmental budget committee. He is joined on the Senate’s environmental policy committee by co-chair Sen. Norman Sanderson (Carteret, Craven, Pamlico). Another key coastal policymaker is Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (Jones, Onslow), who, as the senior co-chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, oversees the Senate’s budget process. Other coastal legislators who serve on key environmental committees include Rep. Chris Millis (Onslow, Pender), Rep. Frank Iler (Brunswick) and Rep. Bob Steinburg (Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell).
At the North Carolina Coastal Federation, we’ll be working with these new appointees and these legislators on a variety of issues. These include maintaining and expanding our efforts to rebuild the state’s oyster fishery; reforming the regulatory process to make it easier for property owners to use living shoreline strategies to address coastal erosion; and continuing our partnership to address water pollution on the coast with low-impact development techniques. We’ll also be working to leverage state conservation dollars to match federal funds for oyster bed and other forms of coastal restoration and advocating for expansion of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and other trust funds to preserve and protect critical open space.
For more information about the federation’s policy work in Raleigh, visit nccoast.org/raleighreport.