Butterfield-and-PriceAs state legislators work to craft a plan to address the future use and disposal of coal ash, a group of congressmen is pushing the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact stricter standards and enforcement of the toxic substance.

Congressmen G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) and David Price (NC-04) write in a letter released to the media Wednesday that the EPA must finalize “strong federal standards for the safe disposal of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by the end of 2014.”

Here’s an excerpt from their letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

Major coal ash spills in 2014 into the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee are examples of full impoundment failures and show that our constituents must be better protected.  Both spills originated from wet coal ash impoundments located near power plants adjacent to rivers where the failure of impoundment walls sent harmful chemicals directly into the waterways.  The Dan River spill caused coal ash to travel 70 miles downstream and the Kingston spill caused more than one billion gallons of coal ash to enter the water supply and destroyed residential communities.  The EPA has evaluated wet coal ash impoundments across the country and found more than 300 sites which would endanger human life, or cause significant economic, environmental, or infrastructure damage if full failures occurred.

Far more common than full impoundment failure is the slow leaching of coal ash contaminants from wet impoundments into ground and surface waters.  The majority of wet impoundments across the country lack adequate liners and groundwater monitoring systems.  The EPA has identified more than 200 cases of water contamination from coal ash in 27 states.

It appears we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities.  It is troubling that it has taken large coal ash spills like those in North Carolina and Tennessee to mobilize stakeholders to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes to mitigate those hazards.  Those catastrophes could have been avoided and we owe it to all Americans to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future.

The letter is cosigned by 83 members of Congress.

Earlier today at the NC General Assembly, the Senate Appropriations committee gave its approval to Senate Bill 729, the state’s plan for managing coal ash.

Educators, parents, and concerned citizens returned to the legislature Monday evening urging lawmakers to find a better way to fund education. Demonstrators voiced their displeasure at budget plans that would cut teaching assistants, school nurses, textbook funds, and the university system to cover teacher pay raises this year. Several in the crowd on Halifax Mall said it was time to find new revenue and fully fund the state’s educational needs.

To hear from the Raging Grannies and a few of Monday’s protesters, click below:

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1. Moral Monday – The school year is winding down and the State Legislature is working on the 2014-15 budget at a frenetic pace. Teachers, students and parents will be speaking out at this afternoon’s Moral Monday demonstration to show support for public education. Look for a sea of red this afternoon when the protest begins at 5:00 p.m. on Halifax Mall (behind the legislative building) in Raleigh.

2. House Budget – Governor Pat McCrory and the NC Senate have presented their $21 billion budget proposals, and this week the state House will roll out its competing version of the state spending plan on Tuesday. (Though we have heard we could see a few details emerge throughout the day….stay tuned to the Pulse for updates!)

Rep. Rick Glazier is hopeful the cuts to education are not as deep in the House budget. Glazier, who appeared on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon over the weekend, likened the Governor’s and the Senate’s budget plans to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic, just to different places.”

Click below to hear Rep. Glazier discuss proposed cuts to the university system, and listen here to the full radio interview.
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3. “I feel the need…the need for speed!  – It’s rare we get to quote Top Gun here on the Progressive Pulse, but that classic movie line could well describe the House budget this week. House Speaker Thom Tillis has said that Appropriations and Finance committees will take up the House plan Tuesday and Wednesday, and it could reach the House floor as early as Thursday.

House Republicans have just announced a 9:00 a.m. budget preview for Tuesday morning in the press conference room at the General Assembly.

4. Privatizing economic development – The NC Senate convenes at 7:00 p.m.  this evening and up for third and final reading is Senate Bill 743, which would privatize portions of the state’s economic development work. The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results.

But that’s not the only worrisome part of this plan. As Sarah Ovaska reported last week, both the latest Senate bill and the House version would allow the new economic development partnership to bypass the state ethics law:

The current form of the bills also remove provisions putting members of the nonprofit’s board and top employees under state ethics rules, which require an annual public disclosure of financial interests as well as put in varied prohibitions on accepting gifts and performing favors. The ethics law also attaches criminal penalties for accepting money or gifts from those looking to s curry favor from public servants.

Boards that fall under the ethics rules range from the powerful State Board of Education and UNC Board of Governors to lesser known boards like the Agricultural Hall of Fame and Board of Refrigeration Examiners. The Golden Leaf Foundation, an economic development group funded  with North Carolina’s portion of tobacco settlement money, also is not a covered board under state ethics rules.

The nonprofit economic development group will have to develop conflict of interest policies that prevent board members from participating in discussion of projects that would have personal financial benefits, or benefits to family members and associates.

State Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill, said that ethics provision was removed at the request of the state Commerce department because it feared the financial disclosures would prevent people from joining the economic development board.

The NC Budget & Tax Center’s Allan Freyer will be on Capital Tonight  (Time Warner Cable News) at 7:00 p.m. this evening discussing this legislation.

5. Child and Family Day – Parents, children, youth, law enforcement, child care providers, and concerned citizens will come together at the state legislature on Tuesday to remind policymakers that our future prosperity depends on the well-being of today’s children and youth.

Two local arts organizations, Arts Together and Artspace, will be a part of Child and Family Day offering participants fun, engaging visual art activities! Arts Together will work with children to create a “Faces of North Carolina’s Children” self-portrait collage and Artspace will begin a large loom weaving, and ask children and parents (and anyone) to help with the weaving. Prior to the art projects, a series of speakers will address Child and Family Day attendees about the importance of investing in children.

Interested in attending? Tuesday’s event begins at 10:00 a.m. on Halifax Mall, the same location as the Moral Monday demonstration.

MCcRORY SIGNS FRACKING BILLGovernor Pat McCrory, backed by Republican legislators and his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, signed the controversial Energy Modernization Act Wednesday morning. The legislation speeds up the start of natural gas drilling in North Carolina.

The governor said the bill, which zipped through both chambers last week with limited debate, will bring good jobs to rural North Carolina.

“We have watched and waited as other states moved forward with energy exploration, and it is finally our turn. This legislation will spur economic development at all levels of our economy, not just the energy sector,” said McCrory.

The governor also pledged that the new law has the necessary protections for the environment.

“The expansion of our energy sector will not come at a cost to our precious environment. This legislation has the safeguards to protect the high quality of life we cherish,” continued the governor.

Environmentalists have warned that the bill doesn’t address some of the most controversial elements of the fracking process, including forced pooling and the disposal of toxic fracking fluid.

“This bill sets a course for fracking to begin in 2015 by default, even though state regulators have not yet proposed draft rules for public comment.  This approach — buying a pig in a poke — will not protect North Carolina from the devastating impacts this industry has visited on communities in other states,” said Grady McCallie, policy director for NC Conservation Network.  “Lawmakers have broken the promise they made in 2012 and again in 2013 — to have the finished package of rules in front of them before deciding whether to allow fracking here — and by his signing, Gov. McCrory has signaled his willingness to put public health and communities at risk, too.”

Moral Monday demonstrators came to Raleigh this week to protest fracking and the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. That didn’t stop them however from weighing in on the Senate’s budget plan, which includes major cuts to health and human service programs and further reductions in education spending to fund teacher pay raises this year.  Click below to hear more from the Moral Monday protesters in their own words:

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