Environment, News

Want to have your say on seismic testing, drilling off the NC coast? Thursday’s your deadline.

If you enjoyed the beach over the long holiday weekend or have plans to go to the coast later this summer, you owe it to yourself to read Lisa Sorg’s new piece on the main Policy Watch website.

Sorg details the latest plans for seismic testing and offshore drilling, along with details on how you can weigh-in this week to protect the Atlantic Coast.

Here’s an excerpt from her story:

About 30 people gathered in Morehead City last week to sign petitions against seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic Ocean — a precursor to offshore drilling. Photo: Lisa Sorg

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas.

Seismic air guns use compressed air to generate pulses of sound — excruciatingly loud sound, 250 decibels — every 10 to 15 seconds for months at a time. For whales, dolphins and sea turtles, who communicate by sound, this noisy environment is akin to people trying to converse — say, hold a business meeting, read to their children, call the fire department — over the roar of a jet engine 100 feet away.

Under the Trump administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service could issue as many as five “Incidental Harassment Authorization” permits to allow oil and gas companies to use the tests to survey the ocean floor for potential drilling sites. The area runs roughly from Delaware down the coast to Florida, including North Carolina.

The ramifications for marine life are dire.

Read Sorg’s full story here.

For more on the dangers of seismic testing, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s recent radio interview with Blakely Hildebrand with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The deadline for commenting on seismic air gun blasting is this Thursday (July 6th) at midnight.

Written comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Comments can be sent to via email to ITP.Laws@noaa.gov or through the mail to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

Image: Oceana.org

 

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Don’t be misled by the headlines or the spin; the final budget is far worse than it looks

Most of the initial headlines about the final budget agreement announced Monday afternoon by legislative leaders were ones they could have written themselves, touting raises for teachers and state employees, a cost of living increase for state retirees and hundreds of millions of dollars more in funding for education.

Even many Raleigh insiders who should know better were praising the overall agreement for the few bright spots in it, like the provision ending the policy of automatically trying 16 and 17-year olds who commit crimes as adults.

Some were breathing a sigh of relief that absurd cuts were reduced, like the proposed $4 million reduction to the UNC School of Law in the Senate budget, which ended up as a $500,000 cut in the final agreement. [Read more…]

*** Bonus videos:

2. Public school advocates wary of “vouchers on steroids” in GOP-authored budget

The $23 billion budget deal speeding through the N.C. General Assembly this week includes a platoon of significant public school initiatives, including much-touted teacher raises, a swift ballooning of the state’s funding for a private school voucher program and dramatic cut-backs for North Carolina’s central K-12 bureaucracy.

But one little-noted provision of this year’s GOP-authored spending package that seems to be generating the most concern from public school advocates is the launch of personal education savings accounts (PESAs). The so-called “vouchers on steroids” have generated great controversy in other Republican-controlled states, but their inclusion in the North Carolina legislature’s budget deal comes with far less public scrutiny.

“There has never been any public discussion of this in the state with the General Assembly. It’s never even been presented in a committee,” says Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Boards Association, which lobbies for local boards of education at the General Assembly. [Read more]

*** Bonus read: Advocates warn budget’s K-12 grading reforms could harm schools, communities


3. The General Assembly’s war on the poor hits another new low
Unexplained, backroom maneuver would rob already underfunded anti-poverty program

There’s no denying that conservative ideology plays a big and important role in driving the North Carolina public policy debate these days. In battle after battle, Republican lawmakers have justified their positions and decisions – from cutting taxes on the wealthy and profitable corporations to reducing environmental protection efforts to privatizing public education to an array of other actions – with the claim that they were vindicating the overarching philosophical cause of downsizing government and “unleashing the private sector.”

Progressives almost always disagree with these justifications – often vehemently and with good reason – but, in most instances, one must concede a certain consistency, however twisted, to the conservative argument. Experience confirms that slashing taxes on the rich won’t actually stimulate economic growth, but one can at least see where the other side is coming from. [Read more...]

4. House Bill 374 and its restrictions on the citizens’ right to contest environmental permits, advances in Senate

Even before he dropped the gavel on the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Sen. Jerry Tillman, a notoriously cantankerous Republican from Randolph County, seemed to be in a particularly bad mood.

He mumbled about being angry. He barked at audience to take their seats, lest he start selling tickets. And with eight bills to plow through — he promised it would take no longer than 30 minutes — Tillman sped through the meeting as if he were herding cattle through a sale barn.

At that auctioneer’s pace, then, there was little discussion of the House Bill 374, legislation with far-reaching implications.  [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Former Wilmington mayor: “We’re here to express our outrage” over GenX contamination in drinking water, Cape Fear

5. U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take on partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin case that could set standards across country

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would hear a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin that has the potential to affect about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures across the country.

It’s a case North Carolinians are keeping a close eye on, since a similar court battle is brewing here.

Gill v. Whitford is an appeal of a lower court’s order for the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw the state assembly map that the court struck down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by November 1. [Read more...]

*** Bonus read: Campaign finance investigation of Senate Elections Committee chair continues

News

Expert: Final state budget disregards NC’s growing needs, uncertainty of Trump budget (video)

Coming-up this weekend on News &Views with Chris Fitzsimon, we sit down with NC Budget & Tax Center (BTC) director Alexandra Sirota to discuss the winners and losers of this year’s joint budget agreement.

Sirota notes that elimination of funding for Legal Aid services and the failure to help Eastern North Carolina fully recover from the damage of Hurricane Matthew are just two of the shortsighted decisions made in this budget.

Also troubling is the legislature’s decision to prioritize tax cuts over public investments. By cutting taxes and relying on grants slated for elimination in the Trump budget for state priorities, it’s unlikely North Carolina will be able able to sustain current services levels, according to the Budget & Tax Center.

Click below for an excerpt from Policy Watch’s radio interview:

News

WATCH: Senator criticize lag-time in getting NC teacher-pay to the national average, continued support for vouchers

Legislative Republicans are praising the $23 Billion budget that passed its first reading in the Senate Tuesday night. But state Senator Gladys Robinson says in a surplus year, the General Assembly could have done much better by educators.

The Guilford County lawmaker noted that legislators could have helped teachers reach the national average in pay in two years instead of six. Robinson also took Senate Republicans to task for setting aside $20 million in the next fiscal year for private school vouchers, rather than funding a small stipend for all teachers to cover the cost of classroom supplies, often paid for out of their own pockets.

Click below to hear some of Robinson’s remarks from the Senate chamber: