CREDIT: Wilmington Faith and Values
North Carolina has returned two grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to study the potential impacts fracking could have on streams and wetlands in the state, a move that environmentalists in the state are concerned could be the first in a trend of “backing away from science.”
John Skvarla, North Carolina’s newly-appointed head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), says the department doesn’t need the $222,595 grant to collect baseline water quality data in the state’s streams nor the $359,710 for wetlands monitoring. According to an EPA spokesman, North Carolina is the first state in the Southeast to turn down an EPA grant.
The water study would be completed, Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder told the Charlotte Observer, but he said since the unit that applied for the grant in the first place was being disbanded, other scientists within the division would conduct the research at a later date — once the state knows more about the location and potential state date of fracking, as well as what potential pollutants the state needed to be aware of. Reeder said the division was planning on eliminating about 70 jobs, a move that will save the division $4 million a year — money that could, in the future, be used for a fracking study.
“Quite simply, the grants were not needed for the division to meet our core mission,” Reeder said.
But Molly Diggins, director of the NC Sierra Club, director, told the Charlotte Observer that, considering the state cut $2 million from water programs this year, sending back the EPA money was senseless.
“This is not a grant being imposed on North Carolina by a federal agency that doesn’t really know what we need,” she said. “This was a grant being sought by DENR to meet known challenges.”
Skvarla, who was appointed in January to head the DENR, has had a history in his short time in the agency of anti-environmental decisions and views. Skvarla eliminated the state’s Division of Water Quality — a move that was mandated by state officials but was one of Skvarla’s actions that so angered one member of the DENR that she resigned. Skvarla said in January that there’s “a great divergence of opinion on the science of climate” and that “climate change is a science and I think science is constantly in need of scrutiny.” According to Charlotte’s Creative Loafing, the DENR under Skvarla has “postponed any investigation of known, illegal pollution of the Neuse River by Duke Energy coal ash ponds until 2015” and has “virtually eliminated public hearings on regulation of pollutant discharges, such as chemicals from coal ash ponds.”
Currently, North Carolina is under a fracking moratorium, but basins near Lee and Durham are likely to be tapped once its lifted. In August, state officials approved a recommendation that would force North Carolina landowners to sell the natural gas under their homes and farms whether they wanted to or not. The recommendation, which is expected to be taken up by the state legislature this fall, would be similar to laws already in place in Arkansas and Virginia, states that require neighbors to participate in drilling if a certain percentage of surrounding land is already leased.