I-Team: Who is DENR's main customer?

DENR says it's focused on customer service. But who's its main customer?
April 4, 2014 12:57:04 PM PDT
A Wake County judge ordered Duke Energy to clean up coal ash sites across the state, and to stop polluting groundwater. It comes the same day a new TV ad hits the airwaves. It indirectly blames Gov. Pat McCrory for the spill.

All this comes amid accusations that the state has been too focused on being business friendly, and not holding violators accountable.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says it's focused on customer service.  But who's its main customer? Is it the environment? Is it the citizens of North Carolina? Or is it, as they argue, the very companies they regulate?

"We don't need more studies.  We don't need a task force. What we need is action," said former DENR Supervisor Amy Adams.

Adams says she quit DENR last fall after 10 years because of changes pushed by McCrory and the Republican-led legislature.

"I decided I needed to step outside the halls of DENR and tell the story of what was happening," said Adams.

That story, according to Adams, chronicles budget cuts and policy changes that weakened the agency, made it more friendly to the industry than the environment, and put long-time employees at risk.

"People were concerned about, were their actions going to put their jobs in jeopardy," said Adams. "If they really pursued environmental regulations and that industry complained to the governor or to Skvarla, are they going to be judged for doing their job?"

Adams says the changes were telegraphed early on.

In an exclusive video, a senior manager spelled out the department's new mission in front of employees last summer.

"Helping and serving the citizens of North Carolina is what we're all about," said DENR's Tom Reeder. "Your job is not to bring down a huge compliance enforcement penalty on that individual to make sure he doesn't make that mistake or teach him a lesson he'll not forget. Your job is to help him get back into compliance."

Adams says she and others got the message loud and clear.

"This is the new game plan, and if you can't get on board with it, or if you're going to whine and complain about it, then you should get your resume ready," said Adams.

However, the new direction shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. DENR Secretary John Skvarla laid it all out for us shortly after taking the helm.

"We've gotten out of balance," said Skvarla in an April 2013 interview with ABC11. "When the environment is the only customer and you presume there's a cornucopia of money to support that, it gets out of balance."  

Finding a new balance, and redefining DENR's customers has also led to longtime employees like Adams running for the hills.

"There are a lot of unhappy people at DENR right now," said Adams.

? Watch an extended interview with Amy Adams here. ?

While no one from DENR responded to our calls earlier in the day, late Thursday evening, Gov. McCrory's Communications Director Josh Ellis called ABC11 to remind us that, in our first interview with Skvarla, he was unequivocal that DENR's first customer is still the environment.

? Watch the whole story with Skvarla here. ?

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