Scott Mooneyham: Competing interests on the coast

  • Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013 12:12 a.m.
Scott Mooneyham
Scott Mooneyham

RALEIGH — In the political world, government regulation is often cast in stark and partisan terms.

Republicans often tout regulation as bad, as unnecessary red tape created to serve bureaucrats and not the people that government is supposed to serve.

Their business allies, sometimes groups whose individual members have varied and competing interests themselves, promote the notion that government regulation is destroying their competitiveness.

Democrats often take the opposite tack, arguing for regulation as needed to protect the individual and public health. Their environmentalist allies advance broad goals of saving land, water and air from being spoiled by polluting industry.

The reality of government regulation is much more gray.

Plenty of business owners can point to examples of government regulation that appear senseless or have outlived their purpose. They can talk about regulators that are prone to take regulations beyond their intent.

Regulation can also involve less than obvious agendas.

An example is a professional or business licensing requirement that has less to do about keeping out unscrupulous actors and more to do about keeping out the competition.

A lot of government regulation, though, is not about broad issues of environment, public health or consumer protection.

Often, it is about trying to balance competing interests, even when those competing interests align themselves with partisan factions, industries or environmentalists.

One example recently crossed my desk dealing with coastal fisheries, coastal waters and the coastal economy.

It involves plans by Martin Marietta to put a limestone quarry just east of the town of Vanceboro near the Beaufort-Craven county lines.

The area is relatively poor, and plenty of local residents welcome any new economic activity.

What isn’t so welcome are the company’s plans to pump 9 million gallons of fresh water, pulled from an underground aquifer, into ditches and streams feeding a saltwater creek, Blounts Creek.

The opposition could be couched as environmental, as the fear is that this amount of freshwater will permanently alter the tidal creek, the surrounding plant life and the fish that live in the waters.

Several species of fish not only live there; the waters serve as their breeding grounds. But the reality is that state regulators, as they try to decide whether to allow the water to be discharged, are trying to balance competing interests of humans, not fish.

The businesses that depend on the fish are commercial fishermen, marinas, tackle stores and fishing guides, all of them critical to what is already a depressed economy in a rural county isolated from the development and economic riches along the state’s beaches, and they cannot go swim down to the next big tidal creek around the bend.

Those same business owners may curse some government regulations that they see as onerous or useless.

Meanwhile, those businesses are being protected by other regulations that at least force a quarry company to jump through hoops before it can forever change the waters that they depend on.

Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.

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