Commentary

Editorial: Lawmakers should approve emergency funding to address GenX water pollution crisis

There’s a fine new website that’s publishing a steady stream of solid progressive commentaries on North Carolina policy and politics. Carolina Commentary is spearheaded by a team of four veteran North Carolina journalists and aims to “provide commentary that minimizes polarization and promotes a collaborative approach to solving public policy problems.”

So far, they’re off to a good start with a raft of solid essays on an array of current issues.  The most recent editorial was published yesterday on the subject of the Gen X  water pollution crisis that NC Policy Watch environmental reporter Lisa Sorg has been covering. This is from “Time to Fund Our Environmental Watchdog”:

“Governor Roy Cooper has asked the General Assembly during its Aug. 3 special session to approve about $3 million in emergency funding to pay for investigation and regulation of threats to the state’s drinking water. Good for him.

The Wilmington StarNews reported in June that the Chemours plant in Fayetteville was discharging the unregulated contaminant GenX into the Cape Fear River, a water source for New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick counties. Cooper directed the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to investigate. After their intervention, Chemours voluntarily stopped releasing GenX.

GenX is in the same fluorochemical family of man-made compounds as C8, which has been linked to cancer. Researchers found in 1999-2000 that 99.7 percent of Americans already had C8 in their blood, exposed through a variety of sources, including Teflon, Scotchgard, and firefighting foam. GenX replaced C8 in 2009 after lawsuits contended that drinking water contaminated with C8 caused cancer. DuPont and its spinoff company Chemours was ordered to pay a $670.7 million settlement for releasing C8 into the air and Ohio River since the 1950s….

For people exposed to the chemical since 1980, when the plant first starting releasing GenX, long-term exposure remains a concern. Dr. Detlef Knappe, one of the authors of the published research that led to the initial StarNews story, told attendees at a June 29 public forum in Wilmington that even at very low levels, GenX and similar compounds could remain in the body and accumulate for a long time especially if people continue to ingest them….

Before the General Assembly approves Cooper’s request, legislators who in June delivered about $1.8 million in budget cuts for 2018-2019 to DEQ will have to perform the political equivalent of turning around an oil tanker in the Cape Fear. But it can be done.

After StarNews reporter Vaughn Hagerty’s first story on GenX in the Cape Fear appeared June 7, a lightning-swift grassroots reaction spread throughout the community. Wilmington Democratic Mayor Bill Saffo and Woody White, Republican chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, presented a united front against Chemours. Following Chemours’ disclosure that they were intentionally releasing GenX, White and Saffo emerged from the meeting with a palpable, shared outrage.

They jointly advocated for answers and called for Chemours to stop all discharge. This has occurred and levels of the chemical have dropped below the goal established by NC DHHS.

Legislators have loosened controls on businesses in recent years, in an attempt to stimulate economic growth. But at what cost? Legislators should swiftly approve Cooper’s request.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, HB2, News

Lawyer who defended HB2 now the Trump administration’s top civil rights chief

Another day, another outrage from the Trump administration. This is from a story by Rebekah Entralgo of Think Progress entitled “New civil rights chief at Justice Department has spent his career undermining civil rights”:

Thomas Wheeler, the Assistant Acting Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) division that handles policing, discrimination, and voting rights cases, announced he would be leaving his position after just 6 months.

John Gore, a Republican lawyer in Washington, will serve in the interim until Trump’s nominee for the position, Eric Dreiband, secures a hearing. Gore most notably represented the University of North Carolina system after it was sued by the Obama administration over the state’s HB2 bathroom bill. Gore is a former partner at Jones Day—the law firm from which the Trump administration has pulled at least 14 attorneys from to join the president’s team, including the White House Counsel Don McGahn. According to Election Law Blog, Gore’s now-deleted bio on the Jones Day website stated Gore had been “actively involved in redistricting litigation” in private practice and listed six cases in which he defended state governments accused of violating the Voting Rights Act through gerrymandering. (Emphasis supplied.)

Gore represented Florida Governor Rick Scott in a case over his administration’s attempt to purge the state’s voter rolls of potential noncitizens before the 2012 election. The move disproportionately affected Florida’s Hispanic community, which made up only 13% of the 11.3 million active registered voters in Florida at the time, yet were 58% of those identified as potential noncitizens. A federal appeals court ruled in 2014 the purge was found to have violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which prevents purging of voter rolls 90 days before an election….

Gore will not permanently maintain the job: Trump nominated Washington labor lawyer Eric Dreiband to serve as assistant attorney general in the civil rights division, but hasn’t yet been confirmed. Dreiband, however, also has a poor record on civil rights, and many activists have already voiced their opposition to Dreiband’s nomination….

Dreiband, also a former Jones Day attorney, has represented a tobacco company in an age discrimination case and Bloomberg in a pregnancy discrimination case. In his most high-profile case, Dreiband defended Abercrombie & Fitch in a Supreme Court case when the clothing retailer was sued for refusing to hire a 17-year-old Muslim woman because her headscarf was in violation of the company’s dress code, a case which Dreiband lost.

Commentary

Editorials blast GOP redistricting dodge

North Carolina Republicans may be doing everything in their power to block and/or delay the enactment of fair and constitutional legislative maps, but no one is fooled by the GOP’s sudden desire to hold lengthy hearings on the matter.

Here’s Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend:

With their delays, Republicans are embarrassing themselves and acting against the interest of fair elections, which means their delaying tactics are acting against the interest of North Carolina, that interest being competent, fair representation.

Republicans won the 2010 election and came to power. Why do they seem to believe that although they won fair and square, they cannot maintain power in the same way? If their ideas are as right and popular as they think they are, they should have no hesitation to draw fair districts and stand by their records.

After witnessing Wednesday’s [do-nothing legislative] committee meeting, the leader of N.C. Common Cause who is in the forefront of an effort to develop a nonpartisan-based process for redistricting, wasn’t holding out much hope for a decent plan.

“Cynically, you could say they’ve already got the maps drawn, and this is all a charade,” Bob Phillips said.

Tragically, Phillips’ dark assessment may even be optimistic. If the process remains on its current track, the only winners will be the lawyers who will battle over the next set of bad districts in court.

Commentary

Justice Center: Time for Burr, Tillis to move beyond repeal discussion, make ACA work

The North Carolina Justice Center issued the following response to this morning’s Senate healthcare vote in which the latest Affordable Care Act repeal proposal was defeated:

Relief for North Carolinians as ACA repeal effort fails
General Assembly should seize opportunity to expand access to coverage for those in the Medicaid coverage gap

Early this morning, the U.S. Senate defeated a last-minute bill designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make other harmful cuts to health care. Three Republican Senators—Sen. Susan Collins (ME), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Sen. John McCain—courageously broke from the otherwise party-line vote and defeated this dangerous bill. This is a major victory for consumers throughout North Carolina who can breathe a sigh of relief knowing now that their access to affordable, quality coverage is secure for now.

State lawmakers should now seize the opportunity to expand access to coverage for the hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians living the coverage gap. Not only would this make our state’s workforce healthier and more productive, it would help us fight the opioid crisis, expanding access to substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services for those in need.

While Senators Burr and Tillis both voted for repeal bills that would have left between 15 and 32 million Americans uninsured, it is now time for them to move beyond the repeal conversation and work across the aisle to stabilize insurance markets, make small fixes to the ACA, and improve our health care system.

Following the vote, President Trump stated that he will “let Obamacare implode.” However, both data and statements from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina show that the ACA’s exchange markets are stabilizing, so it will take intentional sabotage efforts by the Trump administration to make this prediction a reality. As we’ve seen, the administration has already engaged in efforts to undermine the ACA and destabilize insurance markets. Hopefully with the latest change in legislative activity, the Trump administration will guarantee payments to insurers for cost-sharing reduction subsidies; we already know that the uncertainty of the status quo, in which Trump and Congress are holding those payments hostage, will cause Blue Cross premiums for North Carolinians next year to rise by 14 percentage points. The administration must also enforce the individual mandate and fully invest in outreach, education, and enrollment assistance to ensure that Americans are taking advantage of the benefits of affordable health insurance coverage.

News

Immigrant rights groups to protest detentions, hold press conference this evening in Raleigh

An important announcement from immigrant rights advocates this morning:

**MEDIA ADVISORY **

Immigrant rights groups will hold a press conference and rally to demand an end to immigrant detention Raleigh, NC – On Friday, immigrant rights groups and families of people in detention will hold a press conference and rally at the Wake County Public Safety Center to demand an end to immigrant detention. The action is a part of the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network month of action to denounce the abusive and inhumane immigration detention system. With a string of recent hunger strikes inside detention and 10 deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since the start of the fiscal year, immigration detention continues to be exposed as a fatally flawed system that needs to be shut down.

What: Press conference followed by a rally led by immigrant rights groups and families of people in detention. There will be visuals representing people in detention and messages of solidarity with families with a loved one in detention.

When: Friday, July 28th. Press conference begins at 6:30 pm.

Where: Wake County Public Safety Center (330 S Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC 27601)

Who: Immigrant rights groups and families of people in detention