Skvarla Takes On An Important Job
J ohn Skvarla says he will keep an open mind on environmental issues as he prepares for his new state position as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
North Carolinians in general - and Moore County residents in particular - owe Pinehurstian Skvarla the same attitude, congratulating him on his appointment by the state's new governor, Pat McCrory, and giving him the benefit of the doubt as he prepares to tackle what promises to be a challenging and sometimes thankless job.
At the same time, those observing his performance will be watching with more than an academic eye. From a local vantage point as well as a statewide one, we all have a lot of skin in this game. Environmental issues are of critical importance to our well-being and that of our descendants.
A Delicate Balance
We assume Skvarla is serious in his pledge to take a balanced approach. But in this area, as in so many others, balance is in the eye of the beholder. And the general directions of the new Republican administration he is joining are not particularly comforting to those concerned about our ecological future.
Skvarla is known locally as bright and articulate. He has been quite successful in his business career - most recently as CEO of Raleigh-based Restoration Systems, a company that does environmental mitigation work by helping rebuild wetlands and making it possible for them to comply with federal laws.
Skvarla previously made headlines here in 2007, when Pinehurst residents waging an overheated campaign against a traffic roundabout questioned his residency, ultimately prompting him to resign as chair of the village's Historic Preservation Commission. We thought he got something of a bum rap and wished he hadn't quit his post.
Drilling and Fracking
In his new job, the secretary is certain to spend much time helping decide how the state will proceed on two highly controversial matters. The first is offshore drilling. The second - of special interest to Moore County - is fracking, a highly questionable method for extracting natural gas from underground shale deposits.
In both areas, McCrory has left no doubt that he leans more toward allowing the exploitation of such resources than toward imposing overly restrictive environmental regulations. This places Skvarla in a position of trying to prove that he is not a fox put in charge of guarding the henhouse.
He hasn't offered great reassurance in that department by recent expressions of doubt whether there is any climate change going on at all. He also raised eyebrows when he told a WRAL interviewer that he's not sure fossil fuels are a finite resource that we might one day deplete.
"The Russians, for instance, have always drilled as if it's a renewable resource," he said, "and so far, they haven't been proven wrong. There's a lot of different scientific opinion on that."
Hmm. Again, let's keep an open mind as Mr. Skvarla goes to work. We're proud to have one of our own in such an important position. As much as he loves North Carolina and Moore County, we feel confident he will strike a conscientious balance in looking after our priceless natural resources - especially clean air and water, both of which face undeniable threats.
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