The 429-page state budget, released just before midnight Monday, contains plenty of provisions that will affect the future of the environment in North Carolina.
Here are a few highlights:
The Renewable Energy Tax Credit is going away. Environmental advocates, solar installers, and developers had pushed hard to get at least another year out of the 35% tax credit, but it was not to be. Some key Republicans – like Brent Jackson and Chuck McGrady - pushed for the extension, but lost out to others – Bob Rucho and Mike Hager among them - who preferred to let the renewable energy sector compete “more evenly” with other forms of energy production.
More SolarBees. The budget allocated $1.5 million more for the devices placed in Jordan Lake to control algae caused by upstream pollution. The no-bid contract was supposed to be a "demonstration" project, but will now expand, perhaps to other impaired lakes. The budget also delays the implementation of the Jordan Lake cleanup rules by three years, or one year after the pilot project ends.
Money to dredge Oregon Inlet is increasing. The plan to pay for dredging Oregon Inlet had been to split the cost 50-50 between the state and Dare County (federal money for dredging has dried up). But the plan that passed is a 67-33 (state-to-local) split, saving Dare County about $1 million. Dare County will also be allowed to use money set aside for beach nourishment to dredge Oregon Inlet, at least until the Bonner Bridge replacement is complete.
Money for fracking test wells. The budge allocates $500,000 in non-recurring money to drill "vertical geologic test wells" to look for natural gas in shale deposits.
More terminal groins are coming. A ban on terminal groins – rock structures that jut into the ocean and hold sand in a specific location – ended in 2011. Four pilot projects are in various stages of development. In the new budget, the number increases to six, with the additional two slated for Bogue and New River inlets. The Senate had wanted the cap lifted entirely.
More sand - in bags. The Coastal Resources Commission is being directed to relax restrictions on temporary erosion structures (i.e. sandbags) on the beach.
The Zoo, State Parks, Museum of Natural Sciences, and Aquariums are on the move. The budget moves them from DENR to the Dept. of Cultural Resources, and also allows easier changes to admission prices.
Sunken Treasure? Provides $1.5 million for the continued archeological work for the Queen Anne's Revenge excavation project.
No more oyster shells as landscaping. The budget prohibits landscapers from using oyster shells as groundcover.
Other bills, specifically H765 and H44, will determine the fate of river buffers, air quality monitors, and a slew of other environmental regulations. The General Assembly is expected to tackle those bills after the budget vote. Legislators may also get another crack at the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Some lawmakers are pushing to freeze the percentage of electricity produced by renewable energy at six percent.