When John Skvarla becomes the new secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources next month, he will arrive at an agency that’s feeling a little shell-shocked.
Over the past two years, the Republican-controlled state legislature has moved entire divisions into different parts of state government and consolidated other operations. Along with cuts in appropriations that have left the department’s budget about half of what it was just two years ago, Republican lawmakers have been beating up on the agency for what they say is a culture of hostility to business.
A package of regulatory reforms has either streamlined or weakened environmental protections – depending on your point of view – and further rolling back regulations is high on the General Assembly’s agenda next session. ...
For Skvarla, it’s a matter of cost-effective scale. His role, he said, is to determine whether a regulation is beneficial enough to warrant the cost it imposes. “To add an eyelash of value for an extreme cost is a very difficult call,” he said.
“It depends on who your customer is,” he added. “If your customer is the environment, then the answer is you should be an absolute cop. You should be a mean, big bad cop.
“But I’m afraid if it was the environment solely, we would all paddle canoes to work. At some point in time, you have to balance.”
Note to DENR: In terms of benefit-cost analysis, the customer is North Carolina citizens whose benefits and costs should be counted in terms of changes in consumer and producer surplus. As I said back in September:
As it turns out, many environmental regulations generate benefits that exceed costs, no doubt partly because some clever economists figured out ways to assign dollar values to things "that are essentially not quantifiable."
Benefit-cost analysis is often thought by some on both sides of environmental issues to be pro-business. This is not so. If it is done correctly benefit-cost analysis is pro-efficiency.
*With a significant birthday on the horizon (beware frequent significant birthday posts), I realize that I've now lived in North Carolina for over half of my life (1963-1967, 1989-now). The only other time that there has been a Republican in Raleigh during the "John Whitehead era" (i.e., 1963-1967, 1989-now) I was an assistant professor with other things on my mind (i.e., tenure).