Molly Diggins, executive director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, said the most noticeable change in 2017 was definitely the new governor. Cooper, she said, has been consistently showing leadership on environmental issues, like offshore drilling since taking office. “Second to that is the end of the reign of terror at the Division of Environmental Quality and the return of staff being able to do their jobs and being able to have transparency and accessibility in their work again,” Diggins said. The department had become secretive under Regan’s predecessor, Donald van der Vaart, she said, with professional staff reports subject to rewrite to satisfy policy objectives. Regan has done a better job of transparency and outreach, particularly in rural parts of the state.
Grady McCallie, senior policy analyst for the North Carolina Conservation Network, agreed that the change within DEQ’s top ranks has been important. “We have an administration that cares about good, science-based policy and isn’t trying to smother what their agency scientists are telling them with political overlay,” he said. “Every administration considers politics, but this administration seems to be listening to its civil servants and longtime staff and that’s a huge change.”
And it's a job that has been made monumentally more difficult by the NC GOP's approach to funding. Not satisfied to allow Cooper and/or Regan to manage DEQ how they see fit, Republicans have tailored their budget line items to whittle down the staff in certain areas, while blocking the shifting of resources to fix those shortfalls. It was in the midst of these budget debates that GenX contamination of the Cape Fear was initially reported: