Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. Results from federally mandated tests: Toxics abundant in groundwater near Duke coal ash ponds

Arsenic. Boron. Selenium. Radium. These toxic contaminants, and many others, are profuse in the groundwater near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, proving what environmental advocates, neighbors and scientists have long been asserting: The ponds are leaking. The flow of groundwater cannot be controlled. These contaminants are inevitably entering private wells, potentially posing health risks to those drinking the water. And without a statewide, routine monitoring network of private drinking water wells, it is impossible to know the full extent and nature of the contamination.

Policy Watch analyzed the most recent groundwater results released by Duke Energy in its first annual report as required by federal coal ash rules. In more than 5,500 pages, the data for four plants showed that levels of chemical contamination routinely exceeded state and federal groundwater and drinking water standards in monitoring wells near the plants. The data was collected in 2016 and 2017 and analyzed by independent contractors hired by Duke Energy. [Read more…]

2. The Trump three-ring circus directly threatens NC
Administration lays the groundwork for offshore oil and gas drilling with faux “public hearing”

There are so many reasons not to introduce offshore oil and gas drilling along the fragile North Carolina coast that it ought not to be even a close call. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the widespread opposition of the rank and file North Carolinians most likely to be directly impacted by such a scheme, the bizarre three-ring circus that is the administration of President Donald Trump is plowing ahead and laying the groundwork for what could, quite likely, be an economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions.

As Policy Watch Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg explained last week, the most recent development in this sordid saga was the so-called “public hearing” that Trump administration officials in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held last week in Raleigh. The particulars of the event provided a classic example of the Trump administration at its plutocratic worst. [Read more…]

3. Owners of bail bond outfits admit industry abuses and shortcomings, call for reforms

Jimmy Roberson has read a lot about the bail bond industry in North Carolina lately – from violence and fraud to wide-ranging criminal investigations and million dollar lawsuits.

A bail bondsman in the state for nearly 30 years, Roberson hates that his profession has developed such a bad reputation, but he acknowledges that much of it is deserved.

“I came into doing this in 1988,” Roberson said in an interview this week. “Since then we’ve just got too many people in the business that shouldn’t be there – these big insurance companies have come in and they’ve brought in all these agents who don’t have their own money on the line and will just do anything.” [Read more…]

4. Special three-judge panels have a lot of power in NC, but how do they get it?

Constitutional challenges, especially over the last year, have been highly politically charged in North Carolina and the three-judge panels appointed to hear those cases wield a lot of power with little transparency as to how they got it.

Those panels, appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, help decide the fate of major issues that affect all North Carolinians, including the how much power the governor wields, who controls the public school system’s $10 billion budget and even the basics of who represents North Carolinians in Congress and the General Assembly.

There have been at least 30 constitutional challenges to laws enacted by the General Assembly in state court over the past four years, according to information from Wake County court officials. [Read more…]

5. NC school psychologist shortage leaves many students without mental health resources

Matthew was struggling to keep up with his second grade classmates in reading, was sleeping in class, missing school, and getting into conflicts with peers. Matthew had some unique behaviors that his teachers had difficulty managing, and repeating second grade was becoming a possibility. He even talked of hurting himself. Matthew’s school psychologist reached out to his parents, and then attended a parent conference with his teacher. After a thorough review and assessment, the school psychologist recognized that Matthew had symptoms of a genetic condition known as Tourette Syndrome. A parent interview also revealed that his family was experiencing some challenging life events that were further affecting him.

The school psychologist collaborated with a student support team at Matthew’s school, connected him with a psychologist to address the social impact of Tourette Syndrome, worked with his mother to link her to resources, and helped Matthew learn some better ways to deal with stress and conflict. Years later in high school, Matthew once again met with his school psychologist and worked on building his leadership skills while learning about colleges. Matthew now attends a community college where he is completing a certificate program with plans to transfer to NC State. His future goal is to start his own business. His school psychologist made a difference in Matthew’s life at some crucial times. [Read more…]

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