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Gov. Bob Scott’s 1971 Speech on the Environment

n 1971, then North Carolina Governor Bob Scott delivered a powerful speech on why protecting our state’s natural resources needed to be a priority. At a time when critical environmental protections are under attack, we revisit why our leaders made the policies they did to protect us and to give North Carolina a healthy, vibrant future.

Text of Governor’s Environmental Message to Assembly

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly.

During the past year we have witnessed a ground swell of public concern for the environment.

This concern stems from a realization that population growth, economic development and technological changes often work to the detriment of our physical environment.

This is not to suggest that a high standard of living is not compatible with a good environment. The quality of life is dependent on many things other than physical environment.

Our task is that of blending the enhancement of our physical environment with the enhancement of our economic and social well-being.

In my message to you on January 14, I expressed my concern that North Carolina should anticipate and headoff the major environmental problems which are confronting many other states. I also indicated that I would return with specific legislative proposals.

All told, I am offering 24 recommendations for your consideration. A number of these are incorporated into five major bills. The others are contained in various proposals already before you or soon to come before you. Some proposals are far-reaching. Others are controversial.

But all are offered in good faith and with the hope that, when you consider them, you will keep in mind our responsibility to this generation and to those unborn.

Environmental Policy Act

One of the most important and far-reaching proposals which I recommend is an Environmental Policy Act. This act establishes for the first time an environmental policy for North Carolina.

This measure will require that all state agencies give consideration to the environmental policy for North Carolina, [and the con]sequences of their decisions. This means that any action by a state agency, whether it is a proposal for legislation, project, or program, if it significantly affects the environment of this state, must be preceded by a detailed statement which will outline the impact of such action on the environment.

These impact statements, which will be made available to the public, are to be made available to the public, are to be made in consultation with other agencies having jurisdiction or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved.

Therefore, no state agency can undertake any action which might have an adverse affect on our environment, without making their actions widely known and subject to review.

I recommend that you give favorable consideration to this landmark proposal which will cover those programs and activities carried out with state funds.

Water, Air Pollution

One of the most valuable assets North Carolina has is a relatively abundant supply of water.

In order to protect this asset, I propose several matters for your consideration. One provision requires that everyone who is currently subject to our water and air laws report on a periodic basis the amount, components, and strength of the wastes and air contaminants which they discharge into our waters and atmosphere.

This will greatly assist the state in monitoring where and in what amounts waste materials are being discharged. This information will aid in setting priorities for programs to deal with special problems.

A second provision of this bill speaks to the problem of the proper management and disposal of animal wastes. It authorizes the Board of Water and Air Resources to adopt, after public hearings, rules and regulations governing the operation of animal and poultry production units with respect to the collection, treatment and disposal of wastes; the control of noxious odors; and the suppression of insects and pests.

Other problems which come under this bill are those of waste discharges into waterways from boats, the need for planning our sewage systems on a regional basis, the need to designate floodways throughout the state and to regulate development within these flood plains, and the establishment of septic tank regulations to reduce the health hazards of defective septic systems.

I also propose the creation of a state system of natural and scenic rivers. Initially, I suggest that portions of six North Carolina rivers be designated a part of this system. These streams will be maintained in a natural, free-flowing state, protected from dams and shoreline development.

It seems to me that we should be prepared to maintain, for future generations, portions of a few of our beautiful rivers in their natural state. The provisions of this bill will go a long way in assuring that the quality of our water resources will be preserved.

Coastal Protection

Only three states have more estuarine waters than North Carolina. These waters, where fresh and salt water mix and mingle, provide thousands of acres of pleasurably boating, fishing, and swimming. Our estuaries also support a flourishing commercial and sports fishing industry.

Since these estuaries are the spawning grounds for many species of fish and shellfish, anything that upsets the fragile ecological balance of these waters would be felt, not only in North Carolina, but north to New England and south to Florida.

Probably the greatest threat to these areas is indiscriminate and unwise development. This development involves dredging and filling our marshlands and tidelands, The 1969 General Assembly enacted a statute requiring a permit from the state before any excavation or filling project is undertaken.

The bill I am proposing will strengthen that law by requiring any permit application to be reviewed by all state agencies and any appropriate federal agency having jurisdiction over the subject matter affected by the project. Any agency that objects to the dredge and fill project may call for a hearing before a review board, whose decision may be appealed to the courts.

I feel that this review procedure, which requires that any project meet the standards of environmental protection of all state agencies concerned, not just the licensing agency, will provide the necessary protection of our delicate estuarine waters.

In order to further strengthen the dredge and fill law, I am asking that you give the Department of Conservation and Development the authority to establish regulations relating to the alteration or pollution of our coastal wetlands.

To supplement this effort an estuarine study, authorized by the last General Assembly, is now under way. This study will guide our future planning and coastal zone management legislation.

With this three-pronged attack – current protection, further study, and future planning – I feel we are well on the way to safe-guarding our unique estuarine areas.

Adjacent to North Carolina’s estuarine waters are miles of beautiful beaches, many of them relatively undeveloped. In addition to safeguarding them from offshore oil spills, we must protect these beaches from the eroding effects of the relentless winds and waves and from the destructive forces of hurricanes.

With this in mind, I request that you give the municipal and county governing boards in coastal counties the authority to levy taxes for the establishment and maintenance of erosion control and hurricane protection projects. This authority will eliminate an existing limitation on their taxing prerogative and will open the door for more positive and aggressive action by county and municipal officials toward the solution of beach erosion problems.

To help the local governments finance these erosion control projects, I ask you to authorize the creation of a state revolving fund to be administered by the Board of Water and Air Resources. The board could make advances to counties and municipalities to cover the cost of that portion of the erosion control projects not paid for by federal funds. The funds would be reimbursed by local revenues.

In those coastal counties which have made no provision for sand dune protection, my proposal authorizes the State Board of Water and Air Resources to assume the responsibility of adopting regulations, establishing a shore protection line, designate a shoreline protection officer, and take any other actions necessary for the protection of North Carolina’s sand dunes.

These sand dunes are a vital part of the natural protective barrier along our coast and they must be protected from careless destruction.

Wrightsville Lab

The opportunity has arisen for the University of North Carolina to expand its program in marine research.

The board of directors of the Wrightsville Marine Bio-Medical Laboratory has offered to donate that facility, including the land, buildings and equipment, to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

This private laboratory, operated jointly by Babies Hospital Research Center, Inc., UNC, Duke and Wake Forest universities, is an important center for research and graduate education. It has made landmark contributions in deep water research.

I recommend that the state accept the offer of the laboratory as evidence of our continuing support for its endeavors. Legislation to this effect will be submitted to you.

Roosevelt Gift

The late President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land…will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”

I am pleased to announce that the Roosevelt family, which owns coastal property in Carteret County, has agreed to donate approximately 290 acres of high land, marsh lands and estuarine areas to the State of North Carolina. This valuable property, located on Bogue Banks, will be used for marine studies and for an educational scientific complex known as “Sea-Lab.”

Theodore Roosevelt III, one of the owners of this property and a grandson of the “Conservation” President, will make the gift at 2 p.m. today at the Capitol.

Natural Resources

I turn now to the broad areas of natural resource conservation. The spectre of a major oil spill off our coastline or in our harbor waters is not a pleasant thought. We have all seen the vivid pictures in magazines and on television showing oil-covered ducks. These pictures cause us concern for the thousands of ducks and geese that winter in the wildlife preserves of our state.

I propose strong measures to attack this problem. My recommendation requires the oil shipper, in the event of oil spillage, to pay all costs of cleanup, including the cost of shoreline damage, as well as damage to wildlife. There would also be a substantial penalty in addition to the cleanup costs.

The immediate cleanup costs are to be paid from the state’s Contingency and Emergency Fund, and the fund would be reimbursed later. This procedure will expedite the correction of any oil spillage problem.

The heavy fine imposed for oil spillage should prompt oil handlers to take precautionary steps to prevent and contain the smaller, more common, oil spills at port terminal oil handling facilities.

This bill further requires any new oil handling facility to obtain a permit from the Board of Water and Air Resources and to comply with conditions specified in the permit. Existing facilities would have to obtain a permit to continue their operation within one year after the effective date. This permit requirement will apply to all processing, storage and refining operations.

With these provisions for immediate action, preventative measures, and penalties, North Carolina will have one of the most meaningful and effective oil pollution control laws in the nation.

In an earlier speech I indicated my concern about what I feel are serious inadequacies in our existing Oil and Gas Conservation Law. The way this law is now written, a great deal of environmental damage could occur during drilling and exploration. The present law does not become effective until “commercial quantities” have been discovered.

Therefore, I recommend amending the present law to make it effective July 1, 1971, whether “commercial quantities” are discovered or not. I also recommend you rewrite a portion of the law to guard against any environmental damage in the event a major reserve of oil or gas is discovered.

Another recommendation designed to protect and enhance the natural resources and beauty of our state will authorize our Utilities Commission to prescribe, administer, and enforce protective standards and controls over the effects of public utilities operations on the environment. The major problems we are concerned with are those associated with power installation sites and overhead transmission lines.

One of the major pollution problems in America today is the excessive quantities of soil that are being eroded from our landscape.

Erosion and sedimentation are causing extensive and costly damage to many of our streams and lakes.

It is time for us to seek a solution to this type of pollution problem.

I recommend that you authorize the Board of Water and Air Resources to work with all appropriate state agencies and consult with private industry to formulate recommendations for submission to the 1973 General Assembly, such recommendations to conserve our soil and water resources without impeding essential economic development.

Community Appearance

All of us realize that purely physical considerations do not assure a pleasing environment. The visual beauty of North Carolina is one of our most treasured possessions. We must assure that man-made ugliness does not gradually destroy our state’s natural beauty.

We have laws in force making it illegal to litter. Last year the Highway Patrol made over 1,200 arrests for violations of our anti-litter laws. You have just enacted legislation that increases the fine for littering from $50 to $200.

In order to further protect our scenic beauty, I propose that littering be declared illegal on all State lands. I also propose that our motor vehicle laws be amended to allow individuals or government agencies greater leeway in removing abandoned and junked automobiles and that strict safety laws be enacted and enforced at sites where automobile[s] are being dismantled.

To deal with the leadership problem in this area of visual pollution, I recommend authority to establish municipal appearance commissions. Such commissions would make it easier to coordinate public and private activities directed toward the goal of improving the appearance of our towns and cities.

Thus far, I have discussed the specific features of the five major bills which I recommend to you. Each measure will help us move toward a better environment for our state.

These legislative proposals do not by any means fulfill our total needs. There are other proposals which you will be considering. Many have or will come to you from special study commissions. I would like to comment on some of these and lend my support to them as you deliberate their relative merits.


North Carolina is not generally regarded as a “mining state.”

However, new mines are being opened in North Carolina at the rate of 700-800 acres per year. If these mined-over lands are not reclaimed, the area of unsightly land will grow each year.

A major purpose of the proposed mining law is to require that mined-over lands be reclaimed by some reasonable procedure. I urge the enactment of these new mining laws.

Pest Control Compact

The control of pests poses a serious problem to North Carolina agricultural interests. Even with all of the major efforts at best control, they still do some seven billion dollars damage to the nation’s agricultural and forest crops each year.

This problem cannot be contained within the boundaries of a single state. You will soon have a bill before you to support this legislation.

Interstate Compact

I will soon recommend legislation which will make North Carolina a member of the proposed 17-state Southern Regional Environmental Compact. This compact will let us cooperate with our neighbor states in solving regional problems with are of mutual concern.

Since many environmental problems do cross state lines, I feel that we must coordinate our efforts with those [of] our sister states in order to achieve a realistic solution to these problems. I urge you to give this bill your approval.

Pesticide Law

The General Assembly in 1969 directed the Legislative Research Commission to study the need for legislation concerning agricultural and other pesticides and to report its findings and recommendations to you.

Significant recommendations have been made for state controls affecting pesticides. Emphasis has been placed on regulation of pesticide dealers and applicators. It is also recommended that authority be given to a new Pesticide Board to better control the use of pesticides and to regulate disposal of unused pesticides and contaminated containers.

The Pesticide Board would not be a new state agency. It would be a policy-making body that would rely on the commissioner of agriculture for administration and enforcement of the regulations.

I feel this is a very important step toward the protection of our urban and rural environment.

Regional Water

The Legislative Research Commission has completed a report on local and regional water supplies. It found two major problems – too many small and ineffective systems, and too few large and efficient regional systems. Over 80 per cent of the public water supply systems in North Carolina are serving less than 1,000 customers per system.

The shortcomings of these small systems include inadequate sources of supply, lack of treatment, inadequate operation, small pipe lines that are not compatible with neighboring systems, and underlying all these problems – an inadequate financial base.

The Legislative Research Commission has developed several proposals for your consideration which would encourage the planning and development of regional water supply systems large enough to justify the cost of adequate facilities.

I ask that you give these proposals your strong support.

Land Use Planning

All of us are beginning to realize that the need for a clear policy on land use planning undergirds many of our environmental problems. North Carolina enjoys a unique balance between rural and urban development. However, we must take positive steps to assure that we do not drift further into the problems of urban congestion experienced by many states.

I recommend a comprehensive study of land use patterns to see where we are headed and to suggest any changes in the direction that may be needed.

This study would be done under the direction of my recommended North Carolina Council on State Goals and Policy. I will ask, within the month, that this council be given legislative authority to conduct an across the board evaluation of state goals and policies needed in this area.

Board Reorganization

Under the present statute, the Board of Water and Air Resources includes representatives of the entities it is supposed to regulate. This places the board in the untenable position, at times, of sitting in judgment of the interests of its own members.

The statute governing appointments to the board should be revised to bar possible conflicts of interest.

I feel that no person should be appointed to the Board of Water and Air Resources who is an officer, employee, or representative of any industry, county, city, or other political entity, or any other body subject to the regulations of the board.

A bill to accomplish this reorganization will be presented to you in the near future and I urge your approval.

Smith Island [now called Bald Head Island]

Now, I would like to discuss a problem that has been at the forefront of attention almost from the day I became governor. That is the question of what should be done with Smith Island, sometimes referred to as Bald Head Island.

You will recall that from the very first, I stated my conviction that the state should acquire this valuable natural resource. I still hold that conviction.

Just today I have learned that the General Assembly has once before taken steps to acquire Bald Head. The legislature in 1937 passed a law authorizing the Department of Conservation and Development to pay county taxes on the island and take it for the state.

It was just over a year ago, on April 2, 1970, that the Carolina-Cape Fear Corporation announced its plans for a $228 million resort on the island. At that time, I reiterated my position that the island should not be developed commercially and that the state should acquire ownership.

I moved immediately to get an agreement from the Nature Conservancy that it purchase the entire Smith Island complex and hold it in trust for the State of North Carolina.

However, the owners have not indicated a willingness to sell to the state at what many consider a reasonable price. There is also some question as to the total acreage involved. The owners have proceeded with plans for a high density resort type development that would completely change the character of the island and which would do extensive damage to the estuaries and marsh areas surrounding the island.

My proposal to you today is that the state initiate condemnation proceedings to bring Smith Island into state ownership.

These proceedings will involve an appropriation of funds to be placed in escrow at the time condemnation proceedings are started. I ask that you appropriate these funds so we can protect this unique asset.

This action will require a series of appraisals to determine the amount of money that must be placed in escrow. Therefore I am instructing the Department of Administration to initiate procedures that will provide all information and facts necessary to support these condemnation proceedings.

The whole issue of whether Smith Island should be developed or preserved has become the focal point of a larger question. Just how serious are we about our environment?

The time has come for all of us to make a commitment that will let everyone know that North Carolina is serious about its environment. I ask your support in this effort to bring Smith Island into public ownership.

Today I have brought you up-to-date on the efforts of my administration toward the solution of our environmental problems. I have spent most of my time explaining the details of five major environmental bills that will be presented to you.

My recommendations are designed to attack specific problems which I feel are urgently in need of remedy. They will set out a definite environmental policy for North Carolina, deal with major problems relating to water and air pollution, provide a framework for protecting our coastal areas, establish a program for natural resource protection, improve the visual appearance of our state, and in general enhance the quality of life for our people.

These efforts do not, by any means, close the book on our battle against pollution and environmental damage. Just as these are not our first efforts, neither shall they be our last.

I will continue to search for ways to solve the multitude of environmental problems yet untouched.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly:

Each day brings new evidence that the quality of life on the planet on which we live and have our being faces serious problems of deterioration. Pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink is approaching the crisis stage in some areas of the world. Congestion, noise and an ugly, befouled land are an offense to our senses and a danger to our health and well-being.

Let us resolve, here and now, that North Carolinians are determined to protect our little corner of the world.

Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe almost 400 years ago described our state as “the goodliest land under the cope of heaven.” We embark today on a course that will enable the same description to be applied tomorrow and in the countless tomorrows to come.

Dated April 9, 1971 (Governor Scott’s speech was on Thursday, April 8, at 12:30pm)

Transcribed by Ron Sutherland from microfilm scan of a News and Observer article. Questions or comments to ron@wildlandsnetwork.org.

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