Commentary, Environment

Environmental advocates: We’ve had it up to here (literally) with polluting polystyrene

In case you missed it earlier this week amidst all the hubbub at the General Assembly, the good people at the advocacy group Environment North Carolina launched an important new anti-pollution campaign against one of the most ubiquitous and destructive byproducts of our modern, supersized, fast food-obsessed lives. This is from the announcement that accompanied the group’s Wednesday press event near a polluted Durham creek:

Some of the plastic waste recently cleaned from Durham’s Ellerbee Creek

Environment North Carolina’s New Campaign: Wildlife Over Waste
The Campaign Aims to Bolster Local Efforts and Ban Harmful Plastic Pollution, Starting With Polystyrene.

Plastic pollution is killing our wildlife. That’s why Environment North Carolina is announcing a new campaign and working with local partners to ban harmful types of single-use plastic food containers in North Carolina.

Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is one of the worst and most common types of plastic. Americans throw out 70 million polystyrene foam cups every day, and that doesn’t include bowls and takeout containers. Roughly a third of that discarded plastic ends up in our waterways: rivers, lakes, and especially oceans.

“Polystyrene foam is material we use only once for our food and drink, yet it lasts in our environment forever, causing harm to people, drinking water, and ecosystems. And many cities’ trash is trucked to lower-income counties where landfills are filling fast. Styrofoam is a pollutant to North Carolina, and this state-wide ban represents a first step to breaking our ‘take-and-trash’ addiction and moving toward a sustainable reuse economy. ” said Crystal Dreisbach, Co-CEO of GreenToGo, and Executive Director of Don’t Waste Durham. Read more

Commentary

Civil rights, civil liberties advocates respond to GOP’s voter ID amendment proposal

As had been predicted by many, Republican leaders at the General Assembly have unveiled their latest cynical effort to suppress voter participation — a proposal to place a voter ID amendment in the state constitution. House Speaker Tim Moore said today that Republicans intend to pass legislation this session that would place the proposed amendment on the November ballot.

In response, civil rights and civil liberties groups decried the proposal and promised vigorous resistance. This is from the ACLU of North Carolina:

ACLU Calls New N.C. Bill Latest Attack on Voting Rights

North Carolina lawmakers today announced plans to introduce a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot “to require voters to provide photo identification before voting” and could make it more difficult for thousands of North Carolina voters to participate in elections.

Sarah Gillooly, the Director of Political Strategy and Advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“This is the latest in a long line of measures North Carolina legislators have pushed with one clear goal: to suppress voter turnout by making it harder for some of our state’s most marginalized voters, particularly people of color and those with low income, to participate in the democratic process. Once again, North Carolina lawmakers are trying to rig elections through shameful partisan tricks, rather than taking steps to ensure that every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot that counts. North Carolinians are tired of these blatant and discriminatory power grabs from politicians who keep trying to rig the system and turn back the clock on voting rights. We have come too far to allow Jim Crow-style restrictions to seep back into North Carolina elections, and we will stand with North Carolinians across the state to fight back and ensure that the right to vote is protected for all.”

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed voting restrictions, including voter ID, that targeted Black voters “with discriminatory intent” and “almost surgical precision,” according to a 2016 federal appeals court ruling that overturned the law.

The ACLU and other groups had challenged the 2013 law, which also eliminated a week of early voting and ended same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

And this is from Democracy North Carolina:

New voter ID amendment will only hurt eligible voters

Leaders in the N.C. General Assembly announced today that they will introduce a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification to cast a ballot in North Carolina. If passed, the proposal would be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot.

In response, Democracy North Carolina released the following statement that the nonpartisan voting rights organization would “adamantly oppose” any efforts to add voting restrictions to the state’s constitution. Read more

Commentary

Scathing editorial blasts legislature’s “betrayal of the health and safety” of North Carolinians

Wow. A lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer pulls few punches today in its scathing assessment of the General Assembly leadership’s craven kowtowing to chemical industry lobbyists in and around GenX water pollution crisis. This is from “What’s in the water? Don’t ask, lawmakers say”:

“In a week when many of us observe the 1-year anniversary of the arrival of “GenX” in our vocabulary, the General Assembly chose the most cynical possible response. Instead of passing legislation that will protect Cape Fear River Basin residents from the chemical threat, lawmakers gutted some already anemic responses — at the request of the chemical industry.

The action was a dramatic betrayal of the health and safety of lawmakers’ constituents and it sends a clear message to the voters: If you expect better than this, you’ve got to elect better than this. That opportunity will arrive in five months….

Last week, the North Carolina Manufacturers Alliance — a lobbying group that includes GenX producer Chemours — sought several changes in legislation that addresses the chemical contamination. Lawmakers did exactly as they were asked.

Perhaps worst among the changes was an agreement that North Carolina wouldn’t test drinking water for pharmaceuticals and a broad group of chemicals known as emerging contaminants. Instead, the state will concentrate only on GenX and directly related compounds. The lawmakers also agreed to further handicap the state Department of Environmental Quality by not funding the kind of chemical-testing instrumentation it requested. State regulators wanted a mass spectrometer that can identify a wide array of compounds, but lawmakers instead voted to fund one that only can identify the chemicals it’s programmed to look for.

Ironically, the broader search is how GenX was identified in the Cape Fear in the first place. The N.C. State researchers who found it were originally seeking the reasons for high bromine levels in the river.

According to a WRAL report, the president of the manufacturers alliance, Preston Howard, wrote lawmakers last week, warning them not to ‘open a Pandora’s Box’ with GenX legislation. Read more

Commentary

Cooper vetoes budget bill — here’s why

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Republican-passed budget bill today. The decision came with the strong support of teachers (who flanked the Governor during his announcement) and other progressive advocates for public investments. Alexandra Sirota of the N. C Budget and TaX Center put it this way in a statement praising the veto:

“Governor Cooper showed leadership today by vetoing the N.C. General Assembly’s final budget. Cooper recognized that this final legislative budget puts our state on dangerous fiscal footing, that it shifts costs to local governments, and that it does not invest enough in the things that make North Carolina thrive.

The budget should ultimately reflect our priorities as a state. Governor Cooper made the right choice in vetoing this legislative budget that continues to prioritize corporations and the wealthy few over North Carolina families and communities.”

Here’s Governor Cooper’s official explanation:

Today, Governor Cooper was joined by teachers and other public school personnel to speak about his veto of the budget crafted in secret and passed last week by legislative Republicans.

“The Republican legislature’s budget keeps income tax breaks for corporations and families making over $200,000 a year instead of investing in education,” Governor Cooper said.

Last month, tens of thousands of educators marched in Raleigh in support of higher pay and more resources for public education. Gov. Cooper proposed Tax Fairness for Teacher Pay–freezing additional tax cuts for corporations and families earning more than $200,000 per year and using those funds to raise teacher pay to the national average in four years. Gov. Cooper recommended raises for every teacher, averaging 8%, a stipend for school supplies, and a $130 million investment in improving school safety.

Instead, legislative Republicans chose to protect their tax breaks for wealthy people and corporations at the expense of public schools. The Republican budget failed to provide a raise for all teachers and invested $100 million less than needed in school safety.

“Unfortunately, everyday North Carolinians were shut out from this year’s budget process in an unprecedented authoritarian power grab by legislative leaders,” Gov. Cooper said.

For the first time in modern history, Republican leaders met behind closed doors with lobbyists to craft the budget and refused to receive public input or allow votes on amendments. As North Carolinians learned more about the spending plan, other major shortcomings came to light: Read more

Commentary

Editorial: “Shame” on House Speaker Moore for ignoring proposed gun safety legislation

Rep. Tim Moore

In case you missed it, the Winston-Salem Journal had a fine editorial yesterday decrying the North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore’s decision to bury proposed gun safety legislation by Rep. Marcia Morey and others that would establish a procedure whereby family members and law enforcement officers could seek a court order to remove firearms from dangerous and unstable individuals like the young shooter in the Parkland, Florida tragedy. This is from “Neglecting ‘red flag law’ is irresponsible”:

“Called a ‘red-flag law’ or ‘risk protection order,’ such legislation has been passed in 10 states, including Florida. Ten additional states are considering similar legislation, including the deep-red stronghold of Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott asked legislators to consider the merits of a red-flag law in light of the school shooting in Sante Fe, Texas, on May 18 that left 10 dead….

In a study of the first state to pass a red-flag law, Connecticut, Duke professor Jeff Swanson concluded that the law prevented an estimated 70 suicides during a 14-month period. But Morey’s legislation promptly was banished by House Speaker Tim Moore to the House Rules Committee — a purgatory for ill-fated bills. There was no discussion. No opportunity to debate the bill’s merits. Moore simply waved his magic gavel and made it disappear. This was irresponsible.

The state budget does include some (if not enough) funding for school security upgrades and mental-health treatment. Yet, the GOP-controlled legislature seems willing to consider anything to address mass shootings as long as it has nothing to do with access to guns. That’s not only unfortunate; it’s tragic.

So, in the wake of more school shootings, lawmakers still choose to hem and haw or, in Moore’s case, not to talk at all. And to slip a sensible bill into a closet where he appears to hope everyone will forget it.

Shame on him.”

Shame, indeed.