2017 Mid-Session Legislative Update

The end of April marked the halfway point of the 2017 legislative session and the ‘crossover’ deadline by which most non-budget bills must have passed either the House or Senate to be considered in the remainder of the session.  Although there is still much work to do, Audubon North Carolina has achieved some early victories on our key legislative priorities of conservation funding, coastal protection and responsible clean energy.

Lobby Day a Success!
On April 4, over 40 Audubon Ambassadors, chapter leaders, board members and staff came to Raleigh to lobby state lawmakers on the importance of bird conservation, habitat protection and responsible clean energy!  It was an amazing day sharing with our lawmakers face-to-face how much birds and a healthy North Carolina mean to us.  Participants told us they felt energized and amazed by how approachable their Representatives were during 1-on-1 meetings.  Read more about the day’s event and see photos of our volunteers meeting with key legislators here.  Thanks to all who participated and we hope to see you at next year’s Lobby Day!

Funding for Habitat Protection
Historically, some of the most important bird habitat in North Carolina has been protected with state conservation funding.  Audubon and the Land for Tomorrow Coalition secured an early victory with Governor Cooper’s recently released budget that includes a $13.1M increase in 2017 for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, an additional $6.8 million increase for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and a $400,000 increase for the Ag Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.  Audubon’s lobbyists and the Land for Tomorrow Coalition are now working to engage lawmakers on key finance and appropriations committees to build support for inclusion of these funds in the legislature’s budget, expected to emerge in the Senate the week of May 7.

An Audubon priority, House Bill 353, passed the House by a vote of 110-1 and would establish four new state park natural areas, including Warwick Mill Bay.  Late last year, Audubon NC partnered with The Conservation Fund and NC State Parks to secure funding to permanently protect Warwick Mill Bay, which provides habitat to one of the largest colonies of Wood Storks, a federally threatened species.  Learn more about the importance of adding Warwick Mill Bay to the state park system here.  Audubon’s legislative team is now working with our partners to identify legislative champions in the Senate to ensure final passage of this legislation.

Another Audubon priority, House Bill 905 “Reenact Conservation Tax Credit,” was introduced by Representative Jonathan Jordan (R–Ashe, Watauga counties) and would restore a state income tax credit for property owners that donate their land to land trusts or state or local governments for the purpose of farmland conservation, military buffers, floodplain protection or improvements to public access.  Audubon supports this bill because it is an important step towards restoring a financing tool that expired in 2013 and was critical for protecting important bird habitat in the state.  Audubon’s legislative team is now working with our conservation partners to identify sponsors and line up support for the bill in the House and Senate.

Finally, Audubon NC has joined a new coalition of leaders in the non-profit and corporate sectors to advocate for state conservation funding.  By broadening and expanding the tent of influential organizations in our state, we believe we can be more successful in growing conservation funding, land and habitat protection over time. Current membership for the group, called NC Forever, includes Audubon North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Coastal Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of State Parks, Martin Marietta, NC Farm Bureau, NC Forestry Association, NC Recreation & Park Association, and Smithfield.  Special thanks to Audubon NC Board Chair, Bill Ross, for his leadership in helping to form NC Forever.  We’ll have more to share on NC Forever’s legislative priorities going forward.

Coastal Protection
Guarding against the irresponsible growth of terminal groins on our coast remains a high priority for Audubon this legislative session.  In particular, we are actively monitoring discussions that coastal communities and lawmakers are having about the creation of a dedicated fund to cover the cost of beach nourishment projects on the coast.  If such a fund is established, it is critical that funding not be used for terminal groin construction that would jeopardize the few remaining natural inlets on our coast available to threatened and endangered shorebirds like the Piping Plover and Red Knot.  Our legislative team is on alert for any attempts to change existing state law that currently prohibits use of state taxpayer dollars on terminal groins.  Be on the lookout for an Action Alert on this issue if a threat emerges later this legislative session.

Clean Energy
Transitioning to clean energy in a smart, responsible way is a key priority for Audubon given the threats that climate change poses to birds.  Audubon staff have played a lead role in shaping wind energy policy and public opinion in North Carolina and defending against attempts by a small, but vocal group of state lawmakers who seem ideologically opposed to clean, renewable energy.  In case you missed it, Audubon NC’s Executive Director Heather Hahn authored a great OpEd placed in the Jacksonville Daily News and other leading papers making the case for a responsible and balanced wind policy in North Carolina.  The Southeast Energy News also highlighted Audubon’s work this legislative session to help bring about a balanced approach.

So far, these efforts seem to be working.  Audubon NC and our partners were able to defeat House Bill 470 introduced by Chris Millis (R-Onslow, Pender counties) that sought to add unnecessary and overly burdensome restrictions to wind energy development.  Another bill (HB 465) that  would have placed a 4-year moratorium on new wind projects in the state has been stalled in committee.  On the other hand, the wind energy bill (HB 574) that Audubon supports and we believe properly balances economic, wildlife and military interests achieved a significant success earlier this week when it passed the House Energy & Public Utilities Committee with an 18-9 vote.  Sometimes the best defense against bad bills is a good offense and that certainly has been true with this bill.  You can read more about the legislative battles surrounding wind energy here.  We continue to track of plethora of other bills that seek to undermine solar or the state’s North Carolina’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, but fortunately few have seen the light of day.

Please stay tuned for other updates during the remainder of the 2017 legislative session, including action alerts on fast moving legislation that we feel are critical for Audubon members to weigh in on.

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