leaders said Tuesday that they have ordered reviews of an environmental
program that critics say allows double dipping from funds to replace
wetlands and streams damaged by development.
Bev Perdue has told her panel assigned to reform the state budget to
dig into the state Ecosystem Enhancement Program, while Senate leader
Marc Basnight sent the work to the legislature's Program Evaluation
Division. Both Democrats said through spokespeople that they are
concerned about how the program is operating.
On Tuesday, The News & Observer reported that the ecosystem program
paid a Maryland company, EBX, $911,000 this year for a pollution
reduction project that it had already completed as part of $11 million
in contracts with the state Department of Transportation in 2000 and
Officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have
characterized the payment as the result of a regulatory loophole that
they now want to close. But they also acknowledge that they support
double payments in some cases when a restoration project enhances
streams and the land alongside them. These projects are built by the
state and by private companies.
EBX officials say the company should be entitled to the $911,000
because the state has supported double payments on the other
restoration projects. The restored EBX sites are in Johnston and Wayne
Chrissy Pearson, Perdue's communications director, said that the
governor has been aware of the double-dipping concerns and told her
Budget Reform and Accountability Commission to tackle the issue earlier
"She told me quite bluntly that this process doesn't make sense to her
and she does want some answers as to whether the groups involved in
this type of work are working as efficiently and effectively as
possible," Pearson said.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat and one of the
legislature's most outspoken environmental advocates, said she was
outraged by The N&O report.
"It seems like this double dipping is really ripping off the taxpayers
and not providing the environmental protection that we are seeking,"
Harrison said. "What shocks me the most is that [state officials think]
there needs to be a law to clarify that double-dipping is a bad thing.
That would seem clear on the face of it."
She said that if the environmental agency or the state's rulemaking
commission do not end the double-dipping, she will introduce
legislation next session to stop it.
"This is a lot of money at a time when we don't have spare change for these kinds of projects," Harrison said.
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