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DMVThere have been several important court decisions of late so you may have missed an important one that came out this week. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle denied the state’s motion to dismiss an important lawsuit challenging discriminatory practices by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles in the treatment of people with disabilities.

According to Vicki Smith of Disability Rights North Carolina, the group’s director, DMV has long been making use of a set of imprecise and ill-defined procedures whereby many safe drivers who happen to have disabilities but who long ago received licenses and have had no change in their physical status are, as the result of simply being eyeballed by DMV examiners,  subjected to extra and burdensome tests and requirements to keep their licenses.

This is from a media release announcing the court victory: Read More

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Sea-level rise 2The latest story comes from New York but it might has well be Florida or North Carolina. Once again, politicians (this time led by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are opting for the politically expedient “quick fix” that will make everyone feel good for a few moments but do nothing to address the long-term scientific reality that confronts the American eastern and southern coasts.

This is from a “must read” editorial in yesterday’s New York Times by one of the nation’s leading coastal geologists, North Carolina’s own Prof. Rob Young of Western Carolina University:

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $207 million plan to dredge millions of tons of sand off the south shore of Long Island and spread it along the beaches and dunes. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will direct the federally financed project, says it will stabilize Fire Island and reduce the storm surge hazard for the mainland.

In fact, the project will do neither. It is a colossal waste of money and another consequence of the nation’s failure to develop a coherent plan to address the risks from storms faced by states along the eastern seaboard and gulf coast.

As Young goes on to explain, not only is the project unnecessary in that the barrier island in question is already naturally rebuilding itself (and that the dredging about to take place will disrupts important endangered wildlife habitats), but it’s also emblematic of a broader and even more serious problem: The U.S. literally has no comprehensive plan to deal with rising seas: Read More

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One of the most knowledgeable environmental advocacy groups working on North Carolina’s coal ash dilemma — the state chapter of the Sierra Club — had mixed reviews for the new legislation approved by lawmakers yesterday:

NC Sierra Club Response to Final Passage of S 729, Coal Ash Management Act

The legislature today gave final approval to the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014, a complex measure that for the first time regulates coal ash like other wastes but also undermines a court ruling that would have required immediate cleanup of coal ash.

Following the Dan River coal ash spill, revelations that coal ash pollution has contaminated rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water resulted in an unprecedented public demand for action. Duke Energy produces an estimated 1.2 million tons of coal ash a year in North Carolina. Currently, all coal ash sites have groundwater contamination and nearly all are releasing contaminants into rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

The bill will require Duke Energy to phase out wet ash handling. Duke’s outdated method of disposing of coal ash in ponds next to waterways has led to water contamination across the state. With the passage of this bill, for the first time all coal ash will be covered by North Carolina’s solid waste laws. Further, when coal ash is used as fill to build up land for large construction projects, measures like groundwater monitoring and liners will be required.

Unfortunately, final changes to the conference report intended to protect against ongoing groundwater pollution at ten sites do not go far enough to address a major issue that must be resolved to protect NC residents and communities.

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Bloomberg News published a fascinating story yesterday (“Obamacare Losing Power as Campaign Weapon in Ad Battles”) about the gradual, but steady demise of the Affordable Care Act as a campaign issue for conservatives in the 2014 election. In illustrating the altered political landscape, the story features a North Carolina woman whose views have been changed dramatically.

“Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party’s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift — also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana — shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”

The party had been counting on anti-Obamacare sentiment to spur Republican turnout in its quest for a U.S. Senate majority, just as the issue did when the party took the House in 2010. This election is the first since the law was fully implemented.

Now, Republicans are seeking a new winning formula, with the midterm election less than three months away.”

The story continues with the powerful example of a 44 year-old former Romney supporter from Raleigh: Read More

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Coal ashPeople who know the score are not displaying a lot of enthusiasm about the coal ash bill that will be run through he House Rules Committee this morning. As the website Coal Ash Chronicles noted yesterday:

“[C]losing” a coal ash pond and “cleaning up” a coal ash pond or spill … those are totally different things. The first option leaves coal ash where it is alongside the state’s waterways — which flow into your house and businesses — and the second moves the coal ash away from the water to either be landfilled or repurposed.”

The experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center issued this statement early last evening on behalf of an array of concerned environmental advocates:

S729 Fails to Protect People from Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The coal ash bill issued by a conference committee of the N.C. General Assembly today fails to require cleanup of 10 coal ash sites across North Carolina by allowing Duke Energy to leave its polluting coal ash in unlined, leaking pits at 10 of 14 sites. The bill leaves at risk people in nearby and downstream communities throughout North Carolina and other states. The bill seeks to weaken existing law and protect Duke Energy from taking responsibility for its coal ash waste.

Allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina. Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or “capped” in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites “closed” does not stop or clean up pollution. Read More