Challenging the Rules Review Commission

An obscure but powerful state board called the Rules Review Commission (RRC) has created roadblocks for environmental protections for decades. Now, environmental advocates are supporting Gov. Roy Cooper’s challenge to the RRC’s constitutionality.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) recently filed a brief on behalf of several citizen organizations in support of the Governor’s court challenge. “The Rules Review Commission ignores and violates North Carolina’s constitution, and the interests and well-being of the people of North Carolina,” said Kym Meyer, a senior attorney at the SELC. “This unconstitutional commission places the interests of politically powerful polluters over the interests and health of the people of North Carolina in violation of the separation of powers.” 

First created by the N.C. General Assembly in 1986 at the behest of lobbyists for developers and other powerful special interests, the RRC used its initial powers to delay rules in an unsuccessful attempt to block the state Environmental Management Commission’s (EMC) wetlands protection rules in 1995. When that effort failed, pro-polluter legislators increased the board’s power to give it the authority to not only block proposed rule changes, but to use them to reach into existing rules and put them on hold as well. In 2004, the EMC challenged in court the RRC’s decision to block important stormwater management rules opposed (again) by developers.

Two years ago, Gov. Cooper filed his lawsuit asking state courts to declare that the powers delegated to the RRC—created and appointed by the legislature—violate North Carolina’s state constitutional separation of powers clause. Since the RRC has routinely acted as a proxy for polluter interests, environmental advocates have good reason to support the challenge.

Among the rules which have recently been blocked, or which are now at risk of being blocked by the RRC, are rules to protect drinking water from toxic pollutants; protect wetlands vital to fisheries, water quality, and flood control; support state participation in regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction; and strengthen protection of clean air from truck and auto pollution.

SELC filed its brief on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch, Carolina Wetlands Association, CleanAIRE NC, Democracy Green, Haw River Assembly, MountainTrue, North Carolina Black Alliance, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Sound Rivers, and West End Revitalization Association.

SELC’s attorney, Kim Myer, recently told the Coastal Review that the case is “about E. coli in your water or which wells we’re going to protect or climate change issues and so the stakes are really high and dramatically affect the interests of all the client groups who signed on who are working really hard to protect resources, but can only do so if government agencies are going to be able to do their job and enforce the law.” Read about the history of the law creating the RRC, and the challenges to that law.  

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