State environmental regulator takes on critics of reform in new video

RALEIGH – Tom Reeder, one of the state’s top environmental regulatory officials, issued a video Monday in an effort to address critics’ claims about the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.

Reeder, assistant secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality, is charged with monitoring corporate compliance with environmental law.  He worked with legislators during the last legislative session to come up with the new regulatory reform bill that was passed by the General Assembly last month, largely along party lines, and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory last week. Environmental groups have been criticizing the bill, saying that it loosens regulations, but DEQ says in fact it promotes compliance. The agency decided to take Reeder’s message straight to YouTube.

“We saw this as an opportunity for the agency to address the public directly about fallacies being circulated about the law,” said Crystal Feldman, communications director for DEQ.

The new law makes some key changes. Previous law relied almost solely on inspections and the threat of fines to uncover violations, while the new law gives incentives to companies to perform internal audits of their environmental impact. Under the new law, North Carolina joins 20 other states in providing companies some legal protection if they uncover violations in their internal audits. If the violations are promptly corrected and were not intentional, the company can get limited immunity from civil fines for the violations.

Critics have said the measure will roll back important state rules that protect the environment and the public’s health.

“This General Assembly seems intent on subsidizing developers by removing protections that were put in place to protect the state’s lands and waters for future generations,” said Molly Diggins, the director of North Carolina’s Sierra Club chapter, in a press statement.

However, supporters say the law actually tightens the regulatory power of DEQ by eliminating the agency’s ability to decline to investigate possible environmental crimes, as is allowed in the current policy.

“The criticisms being pushed by environmental special interest groups are not based on fact. The law improves environmental protection and allows the agency to use resources where they are most needed.   Any allegations to the contrary are completely false,” said Feldman.