Commentary, News

BREAKING: New analysis shows GOP tax plan would be “devastating” to North Carolina nonprofits

This is usually the time of year during which conservative politicians undertake a hypocritical pivot from their ideological crusade against all things public and pay a smidgen of lip service  to the notion of helping out nonprofits who help people in need. You know how this goes: Day One though Nine – vote to slash Food Stamps and public assistance; Day Ten – appear at a press conference touting local food banks and rescue missions that struggle to feed the hungry.

This year, it appears the annual about-face will require an even higher degree of gymnastic skill. New analysis released today by the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits shows that the GOP tax bills making their way through Congress would prove hugely detrimental to charitable giving and “devastating” to the same nonprofit service agencies that conservative lawmakers will be touting next week. This is from a release distributed by the Center today:

Analysis Shows Negative Effects of Tax Reform Bills for the Work of North Carolina’s Nonprofits

RALEIGH – A new analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act indicates that several provisions of the congressional tax reform plans would make it harder for charitable nonprofits throughout North Carolina to provide critical services in their communities.

The analysis from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits highlights the key nonprofit provisions in the tax reform bills that were approved yesterday by the full U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Among the concerns highlighted are:

  1. The changes to the individual income tax structure (House and Senate bills) would reduce charitable giving by between $12 billion and $20 billion every year;
  2. The potential to inject partisan politics into the work of 501(c)(3) organizations (House bill) would damage the public’s trust in churches, nonprofits, and foundations;
  3. The elimination of a key financing option for private nonprofits (House bill) would make it harder for many nonprofits to expand their operations; and
  4. The imposition of new taxes on some tax-exempt organizations to pay for tax cuts (House and Senate bills) would take resources away from nonprofits’ work in communities across the state.

These and other challenges are outlined in the Center’s comparison of nonprofit provisions in the House and Senate tax plans.

“The tax reform proposals, as currently written in both the House and Senate, would be devastating for nonprofits throughout North Carolina and to the communities they serve,” said David Heinen, Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. “Both proposals would lead to a sharp reduction in charitable giving because only about five percent of North Carolinians would be eligible for the charitable deduction. Furthermore, the weakening of the Johnson Amendment in the House bill could destroy the public’s trust in nonprofits’ work if 501(c)(3) nonprofits are allowed to become known as Democratic charities and Republican charities rather than the nonpartisan problem solvers that they are today.”


Opponents, supporters turn out in force over air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Tom Betts of Rocky Mount, a supporter of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: “There’s no better way to help poor people than to give them a job.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The deadline for public comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s air permit is Monday, Nov. 20:

At Garysburg Town Hall, 60 or so people had arranged themselves as if at a wedding, where the families of the bride and groom sit on opposite sides of the aisle. Already, the marriage was doomed.

“Is this the reasonable side?” asked a man named Tom Betts, as he took his seat. The vice-chairman of the Nash County Development Commission and a regular at these meetings, had driven 45 miles to support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s application for an air quality permit. The NC Department of Environmental Quality was holding a public hearing on the permit, which would regulate emissions from a compressor station in Pleasant Hill, in Northampton County near the Virginia border.

The residents of Northampton County who do support the ACP and vouch for its safety are generally those with connections to the utilities or economic development leaders who insist the pipeline is essential for job growth in a financially depressed part of the state. Lola Osby, a Garysburg councilwoman and one of the few Black supporters, retired from Dominion after 38 years.

Glover Construction, a 60-year-old family business located in Pleasant Hill, has contracted with Duke Energy to help build coal ash landfills at Roxboro and Belew’s Creek. Heaton Construction, which also spoke in favor of the ACP, has a contract to build an office at the proposed new compressor station.

Gary Brown, the economic development director for Northampton County, received a $1,680 grant from the ACP for his nonprofit, the  North Carolina Center for Automotive Research.

“There are consequences to human activity,” Brown acknowledged. But we need to sustain high-wage opportunities for our own children so they can stay here.” He said that he had to withdraw proposals for two large economic projects — which he did not name — because Piedmont Natural Gas said it couldn’t meet the energy demand for either one. However, Piedmont is a co-owner of the ACP.

“There’s no better way to help poor people then to give them a job,” said Betts, who had been sitting on the supporters’ side of the aisle. “It’s state of the art equipment, it’s safe. There is no downside to this project.”

However, many residents of Northampton County see many downsides and overwhelmingly oppose the compressor station. They are concerned about noise from the turbines — although the nearest home is a mile and a half away — and safety. They question the need for another natural gas pipeline, when two already cross the county. They are skeptical of the utilities’ claims that the ACP will be an economic boon for the area, especially when they as ratepayers will have to cover the bulk of the costs of the $5.5 billion project.

Gary Grant of Concerned Citizens of Tillery owns property in Northampton County. “We continue to be targeted” by polluting industries. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

“The citizens won’t benefit,” said Belinda Joyner, who lives near Garysburg and works with Clean Water for North Carolina. “They’ll be paying for it.”

But mostly they are concerned about air emissions — methane, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds — even at the low levels the ACP’s owners, Duke and Dominion Energy, claim will be released. The county already is burdened with air pollution — legally emitted from major emitters such as the Severin peanut factory, the Enviva wood pellet plant, Georgia-Pacific’s resin production facility — but whose cumulative effects are rarely discussed. (See chart below.)

The new compressor station would add 18 tons per year of particulate matter into the air — more than 10 percent of the current total, according to the ACP’s draft permit and DEQ’s 2015 air emissions inventory.

It would emit more than 41 tons of volatile organic compounds, equivalent to another 5 percent; and formaldehyde emissions would total more than 1 ton annually, adding to the current burden of 9 tons produced by other facilities in the county.

“We ask DEQ to more rigorously review the air permit,” said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina. She cited an existing compressor station at Pleasant Hill and other polluters that are already operating in a predominantly Black area. Fifty-eight percent of Northampton County residents are Black; in the census tract near the proposed new compressor station, the figure is 80 percent. As for dust and odor, Taylor pointed out, those controls are complaint-driven — and are not required.

“I have nothing to gain,” added Tony Burnette, president of the Northampton County NAACP. “We wouldn’t be here if we had a golf course coming through. We wouldn’t be here if the population in Pleasant Hill was 75 percent white.”

The meeting ended after nearly two hours. For travelers heading west on NC 46, the air smelled acrid. On the horizon, steam rose from the stacks at the Kapstone Paper Mill in nearby Roanoke Rapids. It emits more than 4,100 tons of pollutants a year — pollution that does not recognize county lines.

Elnora Richardson opposes the ACP: “It’s not healthy.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)


Air emissions, Northampton County, 2015

Air emissions, 2015 from major polluters in Northampton County
ChemicalAmounts emitted (pounds) in 2015ChemicalAmounts emitted (pounds) in 2015ChemicalAmounts emitted (tons) in 2015
Acetaldehyde14402MEK (methyl ethyl ketone, 2-butanone)274Carbon dioxide239325
Acrolein6109Mercury & Compounds - all total mass includes Hg Vapor2.69Carbon monoxide332
Ammonia 842Methanol (methyl alcohol)166804Methane56.32
Antimony6Methyl bromide (bromomethane)11.55Nitrous oxide10
Arsenic17Methyl chloride (chloromethane)17.7Nitrogen oxide230
Benzene3233Methyl chloroform23.86Particulate matter 10 microns139
Beryllium & compounds0.85Methylene chloride223.21Particulate matter 2.5 microns100
Cadmium & compounds3.16Naphthalene74.67Sulfur dioxide27
Carbon tetrachloride34.64Nickel & Compounds, sum total mass includes elemental74.66Volatile organic compounds729
Chlorine608.06Nitrophenol, 4-0.08
Chlorobenzene25.4PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls)0.01
Chlorine13.47Perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene)29.25
Cobalt & compounds5Phenol20616
Cresol (mixed isomers)2366.2Phosphorus Metal, Yellow or White20.78
DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate)0.04Polycyclic Organic Matter (7 PAH Compounds for NIF)174.92
Dinitrophenol, 2,4-0.14Propionaldehyde984.06
Ethyl benzene23.86Propylene dichloride (1,2-dichloropropane)25.4
Ethylene dichloride (1,2-dichloroethane)22.32Selenium Compounds2.16
Hexane, n-312.3468TCE (trichloroethylene)23.09
Hydrogen chloride (hydrochloric acid)14624.12Toluene708.81
Lead & compounds36.95Trichlorophenol, 2,4,6-0.02
Manganese & compounds1231.5Vinyl chloride13.85

Source: Division of Air Quality


DEQ will revoke Chemours’s discharge permit, citing several violations; criminal probe begins

DEQ tried using the carrot to convince Chemours to stop contaminating the drinking water …

For state environmental officials, the latest spill by Chemours was the last straw. The NC Department of Environmental Quality had tried cajoling, cooperating, dangling the carrot instead of brandishing a big stick. But after Chemours covered up an Oct. 6 chemical spill at its Fayetteville Works plant, DEQ announced today that it is moving to permanently revoke the company’s wastewater discharge permit. The reasons, the agency said, were the failure to comply with the permit and to report the spill.

According to a news release issued at 4:20 p.m., DEQ officials also notified Chemours it will suspend its permit to discharge process wastewater from the company’s manufacturing area including the areas where GenX and other fluorinated compounds are produced. The suspension will take effect Nov. 30. Chemours is still required by the state to divert wastewater containing GenX and transport it out-of-state for disposal.


… but had to use the stick

The revocation of Chemours’ permit will take effect after the required 60-day notice to Chemours and public participation in the permit process, which will include a comment period and a hearing.

DEQ is referring its probe of the Oct. 6 spill to the State Bureau of Investigation to determine if there is evidence of criminal violations for not reporting the spill as required by law. That spill, which released chemicals that are precursors to GenX, occurred during planned maintenance. State and federal officials learned of the spill only after the EPA’s routine sampling results show a huge spike — a nearly 100-fold increase — in contamination in the plant’s wastewater.

DEQ learned of the results on Nov. 1.

In addition, the company is legally required to notify DEQ within 24 hours of any spill that could compromise human health or the environment. Chemours failed to do so on Oct. 6, a Wednesday.

On Sept. 5, DEQ had sent a letter to Chemours about its previous illegal discharges. That correspondence teed up a partial consent order issued by a Bladen County judge in which DEQ agreed not to suspend the permit for a 60-day review period in exchange for Chemours’s compliance with all requirements, including halting all discharges of perfluorinated chemicals.

But Chemours, Linda Culpepper, DEQ’s interim director of the Division of Water Resources, pointed out in today’s letter, “misrepresentations and inadequate disclosures” have continued during the review period.

“It is unacceptable that Chemours has failed to disclose information required by law, information we need in order to protect the public,” said Michael S. Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality “We’re taking action to suspend Chemours’ wastewater permit and moving to permanently revoke it because the company has repeatedly failed to follow the law.”

DEQ will continue to collect and test water samples from the Cape Fear River including at the Chemours outfall.

Two other nearby companies, Kuraray and DuPont, are permitted to treat and discharge wastewater via Chemours’s system. The revocation does not apply to those companies.

Environmental advocates immediately released statements applauding the decision.

“People who are personally affected by the GenX crisis will be relieved to know that North Carolina’s environmental regulators will hold polluters accountable for their actions,” said Erin Carey, the NC Sierra Club’s Coastal Programs Coordinator.

Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network, called for additional funding for DEQ to monitor the state’s waterways, while agreeing the company’s permit must be suspended. “This is the right approach: no polluter is above the law, and dischargers have an obligation not to abuse the waters that support all of us.”


Letter November 11-16-17 by Anonymous B0mRtPKjko on Scribd


New Elon Poll looks at NC views on opioid crisis

If you’ve followed NC Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the opioid epidemic and the state’s reaction to it, you’ll want to check out the results of the latest Elon University Poll.

Among its findings: about one in three North Carolinians surveyed have been personally affected by opioid dependence or has a close relationship with someone who has.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of those polled viewed prescription drugs as more of a problem than illicit street drugs like heroin. That lines up with the opinions of experts who study the problem.

Most respondents also believe their community does not have the proper resources to deal with the problem.

That shouldn’t come as a shock to those who have been following the state response to the problem.

The state budget passed over the summer improved funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services.

But it was well under what the governor called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

A small pilot program to treat opiate overdoses was funded in Wilmington, one of the worst places in the country for opioid abuse.

What may be a surprise is the divide over how best to handle the problem.

From the poll:

Political party affiliation produced little variation in the responses across many of the questions related to the opioid crisis in this survey, but not when it comes to opinions about the best way to address the issue — the criminal justice system vs. the health care system.

Overall, 56 percent of respondents said the health care system is the best way to deal with the problem, with 61 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents holding that view compared to 48 percent of Republicans. As for favoring the criminal justice system, 31 percent of Republicans held that view compared to 18 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents. Overall, 21 percent favored the criminal justice system.

The poll – a live-caller, dual-frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 771 registered voters in North Carolina – was conducted Nov. 6-9 and has a margin of error +/-3.5 percent.

Commentary, News

Must read: Did Trump’s federal court nominee for NC lie to the Senate?

Thomas Farr

Be sure to check out a story in Durham’s Indy Week by reporters Tommy Goldsmith and Erica Hellerstein about Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr — Donald Trump’s controversial nominee to fill the decade-old vacancy on the federal district court in North Carolina’s Eastern District.

This is from the story “Did Former Helms Lawyer Thomas Farr Lie to the Senate Judiciary Committee? It Sure Looks That Way.”:

Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr, a nominee for a federal judgeship, knew well in advance about a controversial 1990 postcard campaign designed by Republicans to intimidate blacks who wanted to vote, according to a former Department of Justice investigator.

The statements made this week by Gerald Hebert, a federal attorney in 1990, directly contradict Farr’s sworn testimony in September before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he only heard about it after a Justice Department letter responding to the plan….

Hebert told the INDY Wednesday that he learned about the role Farr played planning the postcards when responding to complaints to the Justice Department about the 1990 senatorial campaign of the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

A meeting planning “ballot security” efforts—including the intimidating postcards—included Farr and took place in mid-October before the November election between Helms, who won, and then-Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, Hebert says, referring to contemporaneous handwritten notes.

“We talked to Farr, and he confirmed a lot of what we’d heard,” Hebert told the INDY Wednesday. “I don’t think he can really claim that the first he heard of it from a Justice Department letter.”

Yet that’s exactly what he did.

The Justice Department eventually charged the state Republican Party and the Helms campaign, for which Farr was lead counsel, with violating African-American voters’ rights by sending more than one hundred thousand postcards, mostly to black neighborhoods, suggesting that recipients were ineligible to vote and could be prosecuted if they tried.

“He was certainly involved in the scheme as it was being developed,” Hebert told this reporter for a 2009 News & Observer story….

Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, an association of public interest and civil rights organizations formed in 1979, says Hebert’s account of Farr’s early involvement makes sense given what she called Farr’s long record of voter suppression efforts.

“There’s certainly a clear discrepancy between what Mr. Farr testified to under oath to the committee and what has and will be reported about his activities with Helms regarding voter suppression,” Aron says. “A key qualification for a judge is impeccable honesty. This raises a whole slew of questions.”

Though Farr was approved in a narrow and partisan 11-9 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, his nomination has yet to be taken up by the full Senate. Click here to read the rest of this damning story.