With energy companies anxious to start drilling, the two-year fracking moratoriums in Lee and Chatham County are expected to be challenged at a meeting of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission this week. However, the legality of that meeting, scheduled for Wednesday in Sanford, is in question, as is the authority of the commission’s purported chairman, Jim Womack.
NC Department of Environment Quality Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson sent a letter to Womack on Friday challenging both the validity of the meeting and Womack’s dubious role as chairman and making clear that DEQ would not send staff to the meeting.
“First, it appears that you are not a current member of the commission,” Nicholson wrote, because Womack’s appointment occurred after the January 2016 state Supreme Court ruling in McCrory vs. Berger. In that decision, the court determined that both the Oil and Gas Commission and the state Coal Ash Commission were unconstitutional because the original laws establishing them reserved the majority of appointments to the legislature, rather than the governor. [Read more …]
*** Bonus read & story update Illegal oil and gas commission postponed, one statement of economic interest still missing 
2. We tried to get Duke Energy’s secret flood maps. We were stonewalled. 
The 12 minutes spent on the phone with Duke Energy customer service shed no light on how — or if — citizens can learn if they live in an area that could flood if one of the utility’s coal ash basins fails.
In fact, the customer service representative — to her credit, unfailingly polite — didn’t know what an inundation map was.
“It’s not a common question,” she said.
These inundation maps, as they’re known, were drawn by Duke Energy to show the location of these flood-prone areas, which could be devastated should a dam behind a coal ash basin fail.
They are secret — so secret that local emergency management agencies had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the utility to obtain them.
After two minutes or so of hold music, soft jazz, the representative came back on the line.
“This request goes to a separate team,” she said. [Read more …]
*** Bonus read & story update: Under scrutiny, Duke Energy makes public previously secret flood maps near coal ash dams 
Crumbling ceilings. Failing air conditioning and heating systems. Broken down school buses. Mold infestations. Rodents scurrying through the hallways. Students forced to traipse over sewage from flooded toilets. Dismal academic performance year in and year out.
These are just some of the complaints parents are leveling in court against local government leaders in rural Halifax County, home to one of North Carolina’s most chronically under-performing public school districts and a key player in the state’s 23-year-old Leandro case over equity in school funding.
Yet a panel of North Carolina appeals court judges ruled this week that it’s the state government, and not the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, that’s responsible for the “serious problems” in the eastern North Carolina county.
“It’s disappointing,” says Mark Dorosin, managing attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which represented five Halifax students and their parents or legal guardians in this pivotal case. [Read more …]
4. NC’s gerrymandering saga: Where things stand and what’s next 
The 2011 state legislative maps – which have been used in three separate election cycles and six statewide elections – are among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.
The three-judge panel enforcing the remedial redistricting process in North Carolina v. Covington issued a scathing opinion earlier this week explaining why they didn’t order special elections to right the “widespread, serious, and longstanding nature of the constitutional violation.”
Judges James Wynn, of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote the opinion and was joined by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles and U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder. Wynn and Eagles were appointed by former President Barack Obama. Schroeder was appointed by George W. Bush.
Ultimately, the factors the panel weighed favored the plaintiffs’ request to hold a special election and they wrote that any intrusion on state sovereignty would be “more than justified by the severity and scope of that violation and its adverse impact on North Carolina voters’ right to choose – and hold accountable – their representatives.” [Read more …]
5. Civitas Institute still linking to anti-Semitic website 
Conservative group “reviewing” bigoted attacks; funding from major NC corporations implicated
Nearly a week after this column reported that the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute has been promoting a bigoted and frequently anti-Semitic website, the conservative group has issued only a brief and incomplete comment on the matter and is still linking visitors to the controversial site from its Carolina Plott Hound web platform.
The Triad Conservative is a website based in Guilford County that frequently publishes bigoted and anti-Semitic commentaries. Last Sunday, it featured a post under the headline “Josh Stein’s Ethno-Lawsuit” in which it alleged that North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who is Jewish, had joined with other state attorneys general in contesting Trump administration immigration policy initiatives as part of a Jewish conspiracy to dilute the nation’s Christian majority. On Monday, September 11, the post, including a picture of Stein, was prominently featured throughout the first half of the day in an all-caps headline on the Civitas-owned Carolina Plott Hound – a conservative news aggregation site. The headline linked directly to the Triad Conservative story. [Read more …]
*** Bonus read & story update: Civitas does the right thing about its controversial website…sort of 
Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon: 
Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”
For those too young or too new to North Carolina to remember, the horrific 1991 chicken plant fire at imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina killed 25 workers and injured another 55. Workers were unable to escape the blaze because the plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.
Now, Dr. Bryant Simon, a professor of history at Temple University, tells the tragic story of the fire and what it says about past and present American public policy in “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives.”
***The luncheon will also feature remarks by MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.