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Climate change - droughtIt’s become a bizarre article of faith on the modern American Right that climate change and the science demonstrating the human role in bringing it about are all part of some diabolical plot by liberal academics and activists bent on limiting “freedom” and obtaining more funding. Things have gotten so bad that it’s practically forbidden for conservative politicians to even sound like they care about the environment.

In the bill the North Carolina House passed yesterday to repeal the requirement that the state adopt air quality standards for fracking operations, lawmakers even went to the trouble of changing the name of the state “Ecosystem Enhancement Program” (too warm and fuzzy apparently) to the bland and corporate “Division of Mitigation Services.”

Fortunately, it appears that it may still be okay to do a few things to help the environment (and even address the effects of  climate change) so long as you don’t really admit that that’s what you’re doing. Hence, the introduction this week by conservative state senators of legislation called the “Birds and Bees Act.”

As Raleigh’s News & Observer makes clear in this story this morning, the intent of the bill is laudable — to help more bees (a key element of our global food system) survive. Moreover, it’s well-established that one of the chief causes of bee depopulation is climate change.

Just don’t look for any admission of this critical linkage in the law or the explanations that will be forthcoming from lawmakers. Instead, bet your bottom dollar that the “Birds and Bees Act” bill will get explained with chuckles and sold as program to help farmers. All of which is fine and true — it would just be nice to hear conservative politicians admit why such action has become necessary.

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Anti-frackWhen state lawmakers passed a law to allow the introduction of fracking into North Carolina a couple of years ago, proponents promised the public that the state would have the strongest possible environmental protection rules. Today, the state House took one of what will undoubtedly be a repeated series of steps to walk away from that assurance.

Despite strong objections from environmental advocates, lawmakers hurriedly approved a bill that repeals the current law which requires the adoption of state air quality rules by the agency charged with overseeing fracking — the state Mining and Energy Commission. In other words, rather than adopting North Carolina-specific air quality rules for fracking operations (something on which the Commission was already working), the Commission will now be free to take a pass and simply defer to the rudimentary and inadequate federal rules.

Today’s vote occurred in spite of the strong objections of environmental experts like Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, who explained that the federal rules basically exempt small “wildcat” operations — i.e. the very (and only) kind of gas exploration outfits that North Carolina is likely to attract given its unproven natural gas reserves. While federal rules do a better job of governing larger operations of the kind run by big energy firms, those companies aren’t likely to come to North Carolina anytime soon.

The bottom line: North Carolina took another step toward toward bringing fracking to the state today and it did so in such a way that increases the likelihood that citizens and our natural environment will be exposed to dangerous air pollutants.

 

 

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Gov. Pat McCrory’s hometown newspaper is out with another blistering editorial directed at the man whose campaign it endorsed in 2012. Today’s subject is the Guv’s inexplicable difficulty in filling out state ethics forms. In an editorial entitled “Those baffling ethics N.C. forms,” the Charlotte Observer puts it this way:

“What is going on in Gov. Pat McCrory’s office? Why do he and his lawyers keep having such a hard time filling out ethics forms correctly?

McCrory was forced to change his state disclosure reports on Monday when it was revealed that he had failed, again, to disclose required information….

Were this the only instance of McCrory filling out ethics forms improperly, it would be worth minimal notice. But it is not. It is a pattern with the McCrory administration: Fill out the ethics form incorrectly, have the ethics commission admonish you for that, then claim that it was an innocent misinterpretation of the form.

For instance, McCrory said on his ethics form that he didn’t own any Duke Energy stock on Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did….

McCrory similarly failed to fully disclose on his ethics forms compensation he received from Tree.com as a company director. Again, an unclear form, the governor’s office said.

Partisans are dismissing the latest charge as a political witch hunt by a liberal group. That the complaint came from Progress NC Action does give it a political tint.

But voters should consider the facts and decide whether they are OK with error-filled ethics forms from elected officials of either party. And McCrory should do more to fulfill his campaign promise of leading a clean and transparent administration.”

As noted in this space the other day, the best solution for problems like McCrory’s most recent failure to disclose corporate-funded “scholarships” to fancy gatherings of governors would be for the state to simply bar such gifts. In the meantime, though, the least the Guv can do is tell the truth in a timely fashion.

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McCollum BrownIf you’re like most people, you probably missed Governor McCrory’s announcement yesterday touting a new state plan to help a peanut operation create 78 jobs over three years in Chowan County. Though all well and good as far as these announcements go, what really stands out about this one was its inclusion of the Governor’s statement that he was especially happy to have pardoned one of the company’s leaders in 2013 for crimes he committed several decades ago.

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: a) Bravo! Thousands of good North Carolinians undoubtedly deserve such second chances, and b) Speaking of which, Governor, what in the heck is going on with the pardon applications of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown?!

McCollum and Brown, you’ll recall, are the half brothers who were found innocent last year of crimes for which they were imprisoned more than 30 years. In other words, they didn’t commit a terrible crime and then later get their lives together; they were wrongfully and horrifically railroaded into prison and served decades for crimes they didn’t commit. McCollum was sentenced to death!

Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of the pardon requests the men submitted — a period during which the men have received no compensation for the terrible injustice inflicted upon them by the state of North Carolina. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last month:

“The men, who are half-brothers and who are intellectually disabled, were each given $45 in cash when they left prison in September – the sum total of help they have received from the state. They live in Fayetteville with their sister, who struggles to pay the rent and keep the light and water bills paid. They have depended on the kindness of supporters for all their money.

A Superior Court judge declared them innocent in September. North Carolina law authorizes payment of $50,000 a year, up to a maximum of $750,000, to incarcerated individuals later proven innocent. But the brothers first need to obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor.”

Earth to Governor McCrory: The time for action is long past due. Do the right thing and help these men and their families — now. And if you want to learn more about the subject, all you have to do is walk a couple blocks down the street from the mansion and attend a panel discussion that Campbell Law School will be holding Thursday evening. Here are the details: Read More

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The Fayetteville Observer has a fine editorial this morning taking the McCrory administration to task for the latest lame plan to deal with coal ash pollution and the ongoing discharges into our drinking water supplies. As the paper notes, the plan features a loophole the size of a coal fired power plant: it has no deadlines for compliance.

“Duke Energy was caught last year leaking excessive wastewater from its coal-ash ponds into soil and waterways. Duke is negotiating a federal settlement to pay resulting penalties. But the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has found a way to ensure that the company doesn’t violate the law that way again: New permits will make future discharges legal….

…The logic behind DENR’s approach now is to give Duke time to fix these problems. Thinking the company could stop all leaks overnight would be unreasonable. If Duke works toward long-term solutions, DENR can offer permits letting the status quo remain legal temporarily without incurring additional penalties….

Unfortunately, there’s an element missing from DENR’s permitting plan that creates a massive loophole for continued pollution: There’s no timetable for Duke to make progress. That puts DENR’s policy back into the absurd category.

What good is a state agency that just writes permits allowing major polluters to continue doing more of the same indefinitely? Including a wish, even a vague expectation, that Duke will one day mend its ways doesn’t cut it. For Duke’s part, the company has expressed its intent to work toward rapid closure of the coal-ash ponds. If so, that’s great. But it won’t be due to any tough stance from DENR.

As the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued Duke over coal-ash storage, has noted, DENR’s permit plan includes no interim steps that Duke must take to stay on track. The agency needs to rethink its handling of these permits, and work toward a policy with more teeth for working with Duke and other polluters in the future.”

Of course, what the Observer fails to note is that is that such loopholes are no accident; they are what you get when a once proud environmental protection agency is gradually hollowed out and transformed pursuant to the demands and directives of the state’s biggest corporate polluters.