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Special interests still rule on RRC

No environmentalists appear headed onto the board that must review almost all state regulations--after an Indy investigation showed it is dominated by business interests.

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It looks like it's going to be business as usual on the Rules Review Commission, that obscure creature of the General Assembly with the power to take environmental, health and safety regulations--duly adopted by the executive departments--and toss them on the scrap heap.

In July, the Independent called the RRC "a startling trump card for the business community to advance its political agenda" in Raleigh, "sometimes in direct conflict with the public's well-being." It was the RRC that threw out stormwater retention rules adopted by the Environmental Management Commission (EEM), that spiked ergonomic standards the Labor Department issued to protect workers on repetitive-motion assembly lines, and killed rules to protect patients from pharmacists' errors.

The very presence of the RRC, we said, discourages state agencies from proposing new rules or even updating old ones out of fear that what's already on the books could be gutted in the process.

Why? Because every one of the 10 members of the RRC, as we discovered in our investigation, had big-business or big-development ties, or both. None could be considered an environmentalist or progressive politically.

Six of the 10, however, were nearing the end of their terms, so there was hope for change. However, it doesn't look like any change is coming. When the N.C. House of Representatives produced its appointments bill on Monday night, its three nominees for the RRC were all holdovers: Jennie Jarrell Hayman of Raleigh, real-estate company manager and attorney; Dana Simpson of Raleigh, business lawyer and lobbyist; and John Tart of Goldsboro, a conservative former House member.

The Senate bill was unavailable at press time, but environmentalists told us they didn't expect much there, either. In fact, they said, they made no effort to push pro-environment appointees this year, having tried hard--but failing--to get even one (Dan McClawhorn) named to the RRC two years ago.

For one thing, said Molly Diggins of the Sierra Club, environmentalists were focused on appointments to the Environmental Management Commission itself. EMC member Dan Besse, a leading activist, says he was sounded out "indirectly" about serving on the RRC, but decided it would be a fruitless task--one dissident voice against nine.

Diggins said, too, that getting people interested in the RRC is tough, given that most of its work is like "reading the telephone book." It reviews every state regulation, from every executive agency, and rubber-stamps most of them--just not when business objects most strenuously.

Progressives are waiting to see what the state courts do with the RRC, however. A lawsuit filed in connection with the stormwater rules argues, based on the state constitution's separation-of-powers provisions, that the legislature cannot set up its own body to overturn rules adopted by the executive departments.

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