It Could Have Been Worse. Really
Now that the “Frack! I Pushed the Wrong Button” edition of the N.C. General Assembly is complete, the post mortems on the session are coming in. And they are not pretty.
Between the now infamous one-vote approval of the fracking bill and the legislature’s occasionally hilarious, regularly cringe-worthy and downright scary “debate” over sea-level rise and science, it’s easy to understand why a good number of folks with concern for the planet think the 2012 legislature was one of the worst on record.
And don’t even get me started on the House’s endless debate about whether the words “sustainable agriculture” are part of a United Nations plot to take away our American Way of Life (and no, I am not kidding).
I am no historian, so I will leave it to others to debate the relative pluses and minuses of this session in comparison to the many, many others that have come before it.
I do think it is important to point out, however, that it could have been worse – much worse – but for the hard work of a lot of people who spent a good deal of time lobbying legislators, talking to reporters, making phone calls, raising money, sending emails, going to meetings (so many meetings!) and putting in hour after hour pounding their proverbial heads up against a General Assembly that has a well-earned reputation for being hostile to anything that even hints at conservation.
Fracking opponents turn out at a public meeting in Wake County. Photo: Raleigh News & Observer.
Take the fracking bill. When that bad boy raised its ugly head at the beginning of the 2012 session, the conservation folks working against the bill found provision after provision that were positively radioactive. Then they went to work, shaping public opinion, working with GOP legislators like Mitch Gillespie and Ruth Samuelson, who, to their credit, listened closely and changed the bill to make fracking significantly safer for the public and our air and water. And but for a snafu of Titanic proportions involving a late-night vote, a button and a confused legislator, the fracking bill would not have become law, largely because the environmental community worked against it so tirelessly.
Same for the bill that changed the regulation of toxic air pollution in this state. What started out as a terrifying attack on one of the state’s most important public health protections became, by the end of the session, legislation that the vast majority of environmental organizations could live with. How did that happen? Again, through help from GOP legislators, cooperation from industry and a lot of hard work from environmental lobbyists.
Not convinced? Then think about the fact that one of the worst environmental bills of the session – one that would have decimated the membership of the state’s most important regulatory bodies – did not even pass. Essentially that bill collapsed in on the weight of itself in the Senate in part because conservation groups and many other organizations made clear we would fight it tooth and nail.
Now lest you think I am blowing my own horn as the federation’s lobbyist in Raleigh, I will confess that I didn’t work on the fracking or air toxics bill. (There are too many issues for all the conservation organizations to work every bill, so we divide ‘em up among us and try to use our resources wisely. The federation’s emphasis was on the budget, the sea-level rise bill and several other issues this session).
The point I am trying to make – in typical long-winded fashion, forgive me – is that despite all the gloom and doom about the legislature, folks who care about keeping this state clean and healthy for future generations made a difference – a BIG difference – this year. And I don’t just mean the folks who do the actual lobbying. I mean all of us – including you, dear federation members and supporters – who send the emails when we ask you to and make the phone calls to the governor demanding a veto and, yes, write checks so we can afford to pay folks a living wage for getting the stuffing kicked out of them (metaphorically speaking of course) for speaking up for our air and water.
Are things tough in Raleigh for the issues we can care about? Absolutely. But don’t get downhearted. We are making a difference. And, if we all keep working together, we will continue to do so – or get pummeled trying.
--- Rob Lamme