The News & Observer offered a generally fair representation of N.C. Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla’s speech this week to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society, but one line is worthy of note because it highlights the importance of placing quotations in context.

Writer John Murawski offers us this synopsis:

Skvarla said the agency is processing permit applications more quickly, but he also insisted that environmental protections haven’t been sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit. He cited DENR’s recent court filings of 14 enforcement actions against Duke Energy for alleged drinking water contamination at the Charlotte power company’s coal ash pits throughout the state.

But he joked that if environmental advocates had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

Had you not seen or heard the speech, that final sentence would suggest that Skvarla had thrown a gratuitous jab at environmentalists. Actually, the very next sentence in the quotation reveals that Skvarla doesn’t think environmental advocates want a world of “lean-tos” and “loin cloths.” In context, Skvarla was explaining that his meetings with environmental groups have been designed to show that he has no interest in dismantling the state’s environmental regulations. You’ll find this quotation within the YouTube clip posted here.

I’ve met with dozens of environmental groups, all of whom come in presuming that we’re going to relax the rules. And my first comment to them — semi-tongue in cheek — is “I’m glad you’re wearing a suit and a dress and so forth, and you drove here in a car, because if you took all of the dots that you articulate from all the environmental groups and put them all together, and everybody gets what they want, we would live in lean-tos and wear loin cloths.” And they don’t want that, either. [Emphasis added.] But nobody ever thinks of what the common ground is to make this economy move forward. …

The N&O suggests that Skvarla believes environmental advocates are pushing extreme goals. In context, you understand that Skvarla actually believes environmental advocates have failed to consider the consequences of their policy preferences. As Thomas Sowell would say, they fail to think beyond stage one. In other words, they have let to learn the basic message of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics In One Lesson.