About Will Goldsmith

I'm currently a history graduate student at Duke University, but in former professional lives, I was a high school teacher and a journalist.

Robin W. Smith

Collection: Perspectives on Modern Regulatory Governance
Date of interview: March 23, 2015 and April 8, 2015
Interviewer: Ashton Merck; Edward Balleisen, Kate Preston
Interview length: Two sessions of two hours each (~4:00:00)
Transcript: PDF (audio not available)
Location of interview: Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University, Durham, NC

Biography: Over the last twenty-five years, Robin Smith has served the state of North Carolina as an environmental regulator and policymaker.  She spent ten years as a Special Deputy Attorney General; in 1999, she was appointed to Secretary of the Environment at NCDENR.  Smith is best known for authoring the legislatively-mandated Oil and Gas Study in 2012, in which she advocated for a strong regulatory framework in the case that North Carolina chose to undertake hydraulic fracturing.  Smith retired from DENR in 2013 to start her own practice, but continues to be involved in local and national environmental law and policy issues.

Brief summary: The interview is divided into two parts; the first section focuses on Smith’s formative years, including the transition from her time as Special Deputy Attorney General to DENR.  The second interview is much more issue-driven, beginning with water and coastal issues, along with a discussion of her role as lead author in the Shale Gas study on hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina.  The second interview concludes with her reflections on the future of environmental policy in North Carolina.

Time range of discussion: 1987 – 2015

Institutions mentioned:
Environmental Protection Agency
UNC School of Government
DENR Coastal Management Program
NC Coastal Resources Commission
NC Environmental Management Commission
NC Mining and Energy Commission

Legislation and rules mentioned:
Administrative Procedures Act
Coastal Area Management Act (N.C.)
Clean Water Act
Sedimentation Act (N.C.)
Phase II Stormwater Permitting Program
Clean Smokestacks Act
Jordan Lake Nutrient Strategy

Locations mentioned:
High Point, NC
Brunswick County
Wrightsville Beach
Shell Island Resort
Jordan Lake
Guilford County
Haw River
Catawba River
Figure Eight Island
Bald Head Island
Mason’s Inlet
Dare County (Hwy. 12)
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Sanford, NC (Lee County)

Regulatory concepts discussed:
Variances and permitting
Adjudicative hearings
Oceanfront setbacks
Public comment
“Regulatory reform”
Cost-benefit analysis
Stakeholder groups

Firms mentioned:
Duke Energy
Southern Environmental Law Center

People mentioned:
Larry Goodwin
Parker Chesson
Terrence Boyle
Jesse Helms
Jim Martin
Pat McCrory
Mike Easley
Beverly Perdue

Events discussed:
Hurricane Floyd

Extended Biography: Over the last twenty-five years, Robin Smith has served the state of North Carolina as an environmental regulator and policymaker. She received her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1981. After graduating from law school, Smith worked as an attorney for the police department in High Point, North Carolina for approximately two years. Next, Smith work as a staff attorney for the Coastal Management Agency; there, she dealt with permits, variances, and provided legal counsel to agency staff. In 1987, Smith joined the Attorney General’s office as a Deputy Attorney General. Smith split her time at the Attorney General’s office between working with commissions and environmental litigation.

In 1999, Smith was appointed to Assistant Secretary for the Environment at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.[1] Smith started work two weeks after Hurricane Floyd devastated the coastal plains of North Carolina. Smith’s first week on the job involved dealing with the crisis of overflowing swine waste lagoons and the subsequent groundwater contamination as a result of record-breaking flooding in the eastern part of the state. Smith would go on to address issues of importance throughout North Carolina, focusing her energies on coastal policy and water policy based on her previous expertise. Moreover, as part of her role in DENR, Smith served as a member of the State Water Infrastructure Council and the N.C. Pesticide Board[2] as the DENR representative.

During the drought in the mid-2000’s, Smith was an advocate of conservation measures[3]. In May 2008[4], Smith assisted with the development draft legislation meant to equalize minimum standards[5] for water conservation across the state, and changes to reporting requirements that drew the ire of local farmers.[6] In 2011, Smith was the primary author on the legislatively-mandated North Carolina Oil and Gas Study[7] that was presented to the General Assembly in 2012. In that study, Smith advocated that a strong regulatory framework was necessary if the state intended to pursue unconventional shale gas through hydraulic fracturing.

Since leaving DENR, Smith continues to be involved with environmental issues in North Carolina, most notably by commenting[8] and consulting on the recent coal ash dispute. Smith currently practices law independently in the Raleigh area and blogs about N.C. environmental policy at SmithEnvironment.[9]

  • Written by Ashton Merck, 05/2014


[1] Christensen, Rob. “Hunt’s trip to Japan cancelled.” News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), October 01, 1999: A3. Within several shorter articles, Robin’s appointment to DENR is announced: “Robin Smith, a special deputy attorney general in the Environmental Division of the state Attorney General’s Office, has been named assistant secretary for environmental protection at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, effective Oct. 11. As a deputy attorney general, Smith provided legal representation and guidance to DENR and served as counsel to the Coastal Resources Commission, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and was also a member of the mining, sedimentation and radiation protection commissions.”

[2] Notably, Robin served on the Pesticide Board during the Ag-Mart case in which workers for tomato grower Santa Sweet experienced adverse health effects from pesticides used by the grower. See – Collins, Kristin. “State to rethink 271 charges in Ag-Mart case,” News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), February 13, 2008: B5. The Ag-Mart case and Robin’s role in the Pesticide Board was not discussed in the interviews.

[3] Locke, Mandy. “State says use of ‘gray water’ OK,” News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), March 12, 2008: B1. In mid-2008, the state permitted ‘gray water’ or used water (i.e. bathwater) for use to water plants and yards. Piping bathwater into yards was still illegal, and in her statement, Smith indicated that the state would not look into other uses for gray water. Smith cautioned residents not to “go crazy” with gray water – to water by hand, and be careful that only plants are taking in the water.

[4] Eisley, Matthew. “Statewide water rules on table,” News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC), May 19, 2008: B1. The state is trying to offer consumers, cities, and counties a shared set of water rules and encourage milder conservation before droughts happen. Farm groups opposed the bill, citing that their water use is seasonal and unpredictable. Advocates of the bill said that the reason for lowering the reporting threshold is not to limit water use, but to get better information about how water is used. Population growth is cited as a reason to be more concerned about water conservation. The NC plan regulates by basin; by comparison, the Georgia plan regulates by metropolitan area. Smith commented that “We need to keep an eye on the regional picture. There may be a need to share water.” In her interview, Smith noted that the city of Raleigh is really in need of a new source of water altogether. On the farmer reporting issue, Smith said that the bill was simply “about getting information, so that we can better anticipate water needs.”

[5] Bonner, Lynn. “Control of water by state at issue,” News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 12, 2008: A1. Concerns about water rights, and the jurisdiction of state regulations over local regulations, made this bill a contentious issue. Robin is quoted as saying: “The idea is to have minimum measures consistent across the state.”

[6] Eisley, Matthew. “Despite rain, drought still going,” News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 24, 2008: B3. This article continued earlier reportage by noting that the bill had been delayed at the objections of farmers.

[7] Smith, Robin. North Carolina Oil and Gas Study Under Session Law 2011-276. NCDENR and NCDOC. April 30, 2012. 1-504.

[8] Jarvis, Craig and John Murawski. “Bill seeks coal ash deadline – Senate measure would close all storage ponds in 15 years,” News & Observer, (Raleigh, NC), June 17, 2014: 1A. The coal ash bill mandates that the ash ponds must be closed, but environmental groups observed that it remains unclear exactly how that will happen, who will enforce it, and who will pay for it. Senators are generally supportive of the bill. ; Jarvis, Craig. “Coal ash board finally ready to dig – N.C. panel responsible for cleanup, storage to meet Friday,” News & Observer, (Raleigh, NC), November 13, 2014: 1A. Smith is quoted from her blog, expressing concern that the deadlines are unrealistic and there could be interagency tensions over regulatory power.

[9] Smith, Robin. SmithEnvironment. http://www.smithenvironment.com/ (accessed May 5, 2015)

Lyndon Johnson Library

The Lyndon Johnson library website hosts numerous fully transcribed and searchable oral history interviews. Topics span Johnson’s full political career, including his time in the House and Senate, as vice president to John Kennedy and as president. Some interviewees themselves had long political careers as civil servants and elected officials. Therefore, researchers interested in regulatory politics of the entire post-war period should search the LBJ library for relevant content.

Unlike some other presidential library oral history projects (see for example the summary of the Carter library), regulation is not a focal point of the LBJ library interviews. Consequently, relevant discussions are scattered throughout the interviews and are often only incidental to any given interview’s general themes.

Nevertheless, some themes of interest do emerge. Interviews that focus on LBJ’s Congressional career include topics pertaining to energy policy and the challenges and opportunities these posed for Johnson as a delegate from Texas. Oil and gas regulation, particularly pertaining to the 1956 “Bill to Amend the Natural Gas Act,” receive attention for its importance of LBJ’s career trajectory and establishment of his position as a national figure. Great Society and Civil Rights legislation, hallmarks of the LBJ administration, also contained regulatory provisions. The follow is a partial list, roughly in descending order of prevalence, of regulatory topics addressed in the transcribed and searchable LBJ library interviews.

  • Oil and Natural Gas (Texas Railroad Commission (in the context of energy policy))
  • Antitrust enforcement though the Justice Department (especially during the Kennedy administration)
  • Regulation of the outdoor advertising industry
  • Lobbying by interest groups and influence on regulatory policy making
  • Kennedy-era attempts to reorganize regulatory agencies
  • Route assignments by the Civil Aeronautics Board
  • Regulatory commission appointments
  • FDA response to the thalidomide tragedy
  • USPS regulations
  • Interviews pertaining to the institution of Medicare and Medicaid and certain provisions of the Civil Rights Act may also have content pertaining to regulation

This list is not exhaustive. It only reflects topics that emerged in an initial survey.  See suggested search strategies for ideas on how to more thoroughly explore this archive’s offerings.

Summary by:  Elizabeth Brake

John F. Kennedy Library

The John F. Kennedy Library provides access to over a thousand fully transcribed and searchable interviews. These interviews are also categorized by subject term, and an initial survey of relevant subject terms revealed 10 interviews with significant regulatory content. There are likely more.

These interviews are most useful for understanding public/private partnerships in utilities markets, especially electrical power and emerging commercial satellite communications. In the realm of environmental regulation, policies under the purview of the Department of Interior such as mining and mine safety, forest management and fire responses, and the use of federal lands and resources to generate and transmit electrical power garner the most attention. Rural electrification and the structure of power “wheeling” agreements in the west receive much discussion.

Researchers interested in the regulation of the communications industries will also find interviews of interest. Some interviews provide extensive discussion of the FCC, the State Department and the development of the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) to provide and regulate multinational commercial satellite communications, as well as the development and regulation of cable television.

Other interviews examine the workings of the Federal Trade Commission and the role of the Council of Economic Advisors is shaping economic policy during the Kennedy Administration.

Summary by:  Elizabeth Brake

Jimmy Carter Library

The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum website hosts an inventory of oral histories created by multiple research projects, and housed in several repositories, pertaining to the Carter Administration and Carter’s post-presidential diplomatic and humanitarian career. Selected interviews have transcripts available online.  The Carter Library’s full inventory of oral histories is available at their website.

A sampling of transcribed interviews identified materials from the Carter Library’s “Exit Interview Project” and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center “Carter Project” (also cataloged at the Carter library) containing significant content of interest to scholars of regulation. These interviews are especially useful for those interested in deregulation and in consumer protection.

National Archives personnel conducted exit interviews with Carter Administration staffers at all levels as they completed their terms in office. The bulk of these interviews occurred during and immediately following the transition between the Carter and Regan administrations. They focus primarily on administrative and legislative process, although they do offer some assessments of the administration’s overall accomplishments. The Miller Center’s interviews took place in the 1980s, and interviewees were high-ranking officials rather than lower-level staffers. These interviews focus on assessments of the administration’s work as well as economic and ideological approaches to regulatory policy.

Interviews pertaining to deregulation cover legislative and administrative processes during the Carter Administration as well as the political and ideological impetus behind the deregulation movement that characterized Carter’s legislative agenda. Topics include the deregulation of the trucking and airline industries.  Interviews, especially those from the Exit Interview collection, place heavy emphasis on the actions of the White House’s Office of Domestic Policy in achieving deregulatory goals. The details surrounding the passage of legislation deregulating the trucking and airline industries receive particular attention.

The Cater years also saw the defeat of a bill that would have created a cabinet-level consumer protection agency within the federal government. Interviews with officials associated with the Office of Consumer Affairs detail the failed attempt to pass the Consumer Protection Act, including negotiations with Congress, the degree to which the Carter Administration supported the bill. Also of interest are interviews that detail the administrative efforts of the Office of Consumer Affairs staff to increase the office’s standing to weigh in on behalf of consumers in the regulatory policy development of other agencies.

Other topics, which received less coverage, include the accident at Three Mile Island, the EPA, FDA, and OSHA.

Suggested Keywords:  Deregulation; Domestic Policy Office; ICC; FCC; Consumer Protection Act; Office of Consumer Affairs; Three Mile Island; NRC; EPA; Clean Air Act; Federal Energy Administration; OSHA

Summary by:  Elizabeth Brake

Gerald Ford Library

The Ford Library houses several oral history projects including the Gerald Ford Library Oral History Project, 1981-Present. These interviews are not sufficiently described online to determine if they have significant regulation-related content.  Interviewees include the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Transportation, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, the Secretary of the Interior, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Commerce. These interviews likely include discussions relevant to regulation.

Within the manuscript collections, the John Robson Papers, 1970-93, contains an interview transcript entitled “The Move to Airline Deregulation: Perspective of Former CAB Chairman John E. Robson.” The William E. Simon microfiche of papers, 1972-1977, housed at the Lafayette College Library but linked from the Ford Library, include an extensive oral history interview (1000+ pages) with the former Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury. Neither of these transcripts are available online.

Summary by:  Elizabeth Brake

Dwight Eisenhower Library

The website of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, is an access portal for oral histories of the administration that are available through multiple institutions, primarily the Eisenhower Library, the Columbia University Oral History Project, as well as other libraries with smaller collections. The library website provides detailed abstracts of linked interviews, but in most cases researchers must visit the repositories to access transcripts for audio files. (A limited number of transcripts are available online.) The full list of interviews is available at the Eisenhower library’s oral history page.

An initial survey reveals nineteen interviews with abstracts or transcripts available through the Eisenhower library that contain significant content pertaining to regulatory issues. These interviews provide a window on the evolution of the post-war American regulatory state, with particular attention to global contexts, including the Cold War, the Korean war, the development of the European Common Market, and advancements in and proliferation of nuclear energy technologies and weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission, the Federal Reserve, and the agricultural commodities trade (esp. sugar) receive particular attention in these geopolitical contexts. Domestically, post-war economic growth fostered renewed political debate over the federal government’s role in the economy and the continued utility of regulatory policies first instituted during the New Deal. Several interviews discuss the establishment of the Federal Aviation Agency (precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration) and the growth of the airline industry. Changes to the policy structures for the regulation of agricultural commodities are also a prominent themes. Many interviews cover issues related to  U.S. fiscal and economic policies and regulations. Several discuss the activities and internal politics of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors. Others discuss appointments, staffing, and regulatory actions by the Securities and Exchange commission and enforcement of anti-trust policy by the Justice Department.

Summary by:  Elizabeth Brake

Texas House Speakers Oral History Project

Project description: The project overview indicates that the primary emphasis of these interviews is on party politics and the power of the Speaker of the House in Texas politics, covering the era from 1951 to the present. The overview does not indicate specific legislation or policy areas covered. These issues seem to be of secondary importance to party and institutional concerns.

RepositoryUniversity of Texas – Austin

Interview dates: 1992, 2004 – 2006

Digital access: No online access.

Physical access: For access to interview materials, visit the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.

Link: Project overview, finding aid

Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry

Project description: This collection consists of 179 interviews transcribed and indexed interviews recorded with participants in the Texas oil industry. The finding aid characterizes interviewees as “roughnecks, drillers, promoters, financiers, contractors, leasemen and law officers.”

Regulatory significance: Difficult to assess given that the collection is not available online. If you are familiar with this collection, please contact us with more information.

RepositoryUniversity of Texas – Austin

Interview dates: 1952 – 1958

Digital access: No online access.

Physical access: For access to interview materials, visit the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Finding aid says that audio recording is by appointment only at archive, but seems likely from description of project that transcripts are available.


Agriculture in Mississippi

Project description: The Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi houses many interviews related to agriculture in Mississippi, including interviews pertaining to agriculture, industry and commerce, and interviews with African American farmers.

Regulatory significance: Many interviewees discuss government regulation of their businesses, often in a negative context and as an additional reason for competitive problems during the 1970s and 1980s.

Repository: University of Southern Mississippi

Digital access: No online access.

Physical access: For access to interview materials, visit the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.


University of North Texas Legislative Project

Project description: This project was established by the Oral History program of North Texas State University in 1966, and it was still ongoing in 1985. The program appears to be discontinued now and the interviews absorbed into the broader UNT oral history program archives.

Regulatory significance: The project interviewed legislators and other state government officials, including regulatory board and commission members. Interviews occurred every two years, at the close of biennial legislative sessions and topics ranged across the spectrum of policy issues encountered during the session. (For a detailed description of project history and methodology, see Ronald E. Marcello, “Interviewing Contemporary Texas Legislators: An Atypical Approach,” The Public Historian 7:4 (Fall 1985): 53-64.)

Repository: University of North Texas

Interview dates: 1966 ~ 1990

Digital access: No online access. The UNT interview guide (linked below) has abstracts of archived interviews, including those produced though the Legislative Project.

Physical access: For access to transcripts, visit the Wills Library at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.

Link: There is no dedicated link to this project, but see this pdf oral history guide for information that includes these interviews.

Integration and Health Care in North Carolina

Project description: This project deals with the origins and growth of the modern health care system in North Carolina, focusing on integration and its effects on health policy.

Regulatory significance: These interviews highlight the role that federal hospital regulations played in equalizing medical care for African Americans in the South.

RepositoryUniversity of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Interview dates: 1997

Digital access: Transcripts for these interviews are available online.

Physical access: For access to all audio and archived material, visit the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC.

Link: Integration and Health Care in North Carolina

North Carolina Business History Project

Project description: These interviews are with leaders of traditional and emergent North Carolina industries, such as furniture, banking, tobacco products, textiles, poultry, food and food services, tourism, pharmaceuticals, computers, and steel. Interviewees describe the origins and evolution of their companies as well as the changes and problems they confront. They are also asked about the impact of businesses on the communities in which they operate and about the regional, national, and global developments that will affect their future prospects. [Description from the finding aid]

Regulatory significance: Many interviewees discuss government regulation of their businesses, often in a negative context and as an additional reason for competitive problems during the 1970s and 1980s.

RepositoryUniversity of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Interview dates: 1995 – 1997

Digital access: Transcripts for many of these interviews are available online.

Physical access: For access to all audio and archived material, visit the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC.

Link: North Carolina Business History Project