At some point in the last two months, The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) removed links and documents containing information about climate change from its website, according to a report in WRAL News.
The DENR’s Division of Air Quality apparently removed information about climate change that had been available on the front page, including a full page of information and resources about greenhouse gases that no longer exists, WRAL’s report said. Also missing is a 100-page report on possible economic impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation, and the state’s 118-page Climate Action Plan, according to WRAL.
The agency’s Division of Air Quality spokesman Tom Mather told Climate Progress that the reports were simply removed because they were old — not because of the Department wants to downplay climate change. Mather did say, however, that climate change programs were not of great importance to the DENR because of a lack of federal regulation.
“What you’ve gotta recognize is that states like North Carolina have state laws we have to enforce, and federal laws. Currently there are very few federal regulations dealing with climate change,” Mather said. “Because of declining revenue, we have to make choices all the time about where we allocate our resources, so it makes sense that we devote resources where we have a clear regulatory responsibility.”
DENR has earned a good deal of mistrust from environmentalists in no small part due to its questionable handling of the February Dan River disaster, during which 82,000 tons of coal ash were accidentally released from a 27-acre coal ash storage pond owned by Duke Energy. The U.S. Justice Department has recently opened a criminal investigation into DENR due to that spill, questioning the relationship between the agency and Duke — a company that also was a 28-year employer of Gov. Pat McCrory.
The state has also been in the spotlight in past years for its climate change denial, most notably marked by a law passed in 2012 to stop the use of climate-related science to plan for future events. Specifically, that law forces coastal counties to ignore observations and the best science-based projections in planning for future sea level rise.
DENR’s website change has raised questions on whether the removal of climate change information is a reflection of the current administration’s philosophy. Both McCrory and DENR Secretary John Skvarla have made no secret of their skepticism on climate change, despite the fact that 97 percent of scientists agree that man-made global warming is occurring (approximately the same percentage of scientists that agree on the age of the universe, or that cigarettes kill).
“Our secretary has said that he feels that our department needs to recognize that there are all kinds of views on this subject, a diversity of views, and that’s been his primary position,” Mather said.
If it were the case that DENR’s website change reflected a broader decision to downplay climate change, North Carolina Sierra Club communication Dustin Chicurel-Bayard said it would be the wrong one.
“Ignoring climate change and sea level rise would undermine the investments that we make in infrastructure for decades to come,” Chicurel-Bayard told Climate Progress. “If that is the case, it would be very concerning that scientific information is not being made available to public employees.”
However, Mather said Skvarla’s position on climate change had nothing to do with the removal of climate change information from the DENR’s website, and that much of the information is still available with a bit of effort.
“There was no directive from our department,” Mather said, noting the decision was ultimately made by Air Quality Director Sheila Holman. “We are continually updating and revising our website, just like anyone who has a website. … We have removed some links that were formally up there for climate change issues, but we still have a lot of climate change links up on other pages.”