State Rep. Pricey Harrison is widely regarded by her colleagues as one of North Carolina’s fiercest environmental advocates. The walls of her legislative office in downtown Raleigh are covered with environmental awards, and her filing cabinet is decorated with ‘I Heart Solar’ stickers. The Democrat from Greensboro says she is proud to be the only state lawmaker with a 100 percent lifetime score from the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, an environmental organization that grades legislators based on their voting records.
But for Harrison, the past two years under the new Republican majority have been tough.
- State legislators tried to outlaw planning for sea level rise due to climate change and attracted widespread ridicule after being mocked on national television by late-night comedian Stephen Colbert.
- The N.C. General Assembly approved a controversial form of natural gas extraction by the slimmest of margins when one legislator accidentally cast a “yes” vote in a late-night session.
- A Democratic legislator was forced to give back an environmental award after she allegedly flipped her vote in favor of gas drilling in exchange for the extension of a $60 million film tax credit for her district.
- The leading Republican lawmaker on environmental issues told reporters he had drawn a bull’s eye in his office window over his view of the state environmental agency’s building.
- One Republican legislator went as far as trying to insert a budget amendment to eliminate specific people at the agency, while GOP leaders brought back a state policy from the 1970s and 1980s-known back then as the Hardison Amendments-that sets federal regulations as the ceiling instead of the floor for new environmental regulations.
Supporters of the legislature’s environmental agenda say they’re making the state friendlier for business in a tough economy. Still, environmental advocates and lawmakers who share Harrison’s views worry that rolling back and weakening regulations will harm the state’s environment and harm residents’ health.
“It’s been the worst session from my perspective in the history of North Carolina for environmental protection and public health protection,” Harrison said.
She says she spent most of the past two years playing defense—either opposing or trying to improve bills that she believes unfairly target the environment.
The icing on the cake? While Harrison had been a member of the N.C. General Assembly’s Environmental Review Commission since she came into office, she was not reappointed to the bipartisan commission in 2011 when Republicans took charge.
“I’m guessing it’s because I’m too strong an environmental advocate,” she said. “I don’t have any committees and I don’t have any of my bills getting heard, so I’ve got a lot more free time.”