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Coal ash clean upThe N.C. League of Conservation Voters has a powerful critique of the Governor’s coal ash “plan” in this morning’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin (see below). As an aside, how can DENR Secretary Skvarla and the Guv be “adamant that one size probably will not fit all”?

Another Stall on Coal Ash

Gov. Pat McCrory last week proposed legislation which would let the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) direct Duke Energy to ‘close’ its coal ash ponds – an authority which DENR already inherently has through its clean water permitting process – but leave Duke proposing how such ‘closures’ would take place.

Strip away the double-talk and it’s clear that the governor is doing little more than asking for the General Assembly’s blessing on his plan to let Duke continue to call the shots on coal ash. Read More

Last week’s disturbing news about an ongoing teacher exodus in North Carolina’s capital county (Chris Fitzsimon has the details in this morning’s “Monday numbers”) is rightfully provoking frustration and alarm in many places around the state. A couple of good editorials capture those emotions.

According to the Wilmington Star-News:

“At some point, the state, which pays teacher salaries, is going to put itself at risk of not having enough teachers to carry out its constitutional mandate on schools.

Our students deserve the best and brightest teachers. What is happening in Wake County, which is consistently rated as one of the top places to live in the nation, is not a good sign.”

And Raleigh’s News & Observer puts it this way in an editorial responding to last week’s press conference in Raleigh announcing the bad news: Read More

TeachersAccording to the market fundamentalist think tanks, North Carolina teachers are not really underpaid or overworked. Over the last several years, their websites have been replete with articles informing us that North Carolina has a comparatively low cost of living, that teaching is not a year-round profession and other such arguments that supposedly should allay concerns about teacher well-being.

Meanwhile, over in the real world, the evidence to the contrary continues to accumulate. One would hope that the latest news from Wake County (“Wake County sees an ‘alarming’ rise in teacher resignations”) would finally convince these folks of the error of their arguments. After all, here is a classic “free market” moment — a point in time in which people are acting on the ground based on rules of “supply and demand.”

This is from coverage of the story at WRAL.com:

“Teachers in Wake County have been leaving their jobs mid-year at a greater rate than in years past,” Assistant Superintendent Doug Thilman said. “Given the flat pay scale over the past few years, the recent legislated removal of both career status and higher pay for teachers with graduate degrees, increased teacher turnover has been expected.”

Don’t be surprised, however, if the groups find some new way to dutifully parrot the Pope-McCrory line in the coming days and come up with some creative explanations as to why so many teachers are leaving. And you can bet just about anything that their take won’t include a call for across-the-board raises.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services staff confirmed Thursday that dealing with the massive backlog of food stamps cases cost  $21 million in unanticipated costs, in overtime and other costs at both the state and county level.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Now, state officials are hoping that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees the food stamps program and had previously threatened to rescind $88 million in funding, will cover some of those costs.

On March 27, DHHS officials requested an additional $12 million from USDA officials to cover costs incurred at the county level, according to documents released Thursday afternoon by DHHS.

A spokesperson from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services division confirmed the agency received the request and are reviewing it.

A backlog that eventually grew to between 20,000 and 30,000 low-income families waiting for food assistance stemmed from the state’s implementation last year of a complicated benefits delivery system, called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services through Technology.). USDA officials wrote state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos letters in December and January saying agency officials were alarmed by the delays that “create undue hardship for the most vulnerable citizens of North Carolina.”

On Tuesday, USDA confirmed that state officials had succeeded in meeting deadlines to clear the backlog and said it would continue to monitor the state.

The recent request for additional federal funding says that counties hired temporary workers and moved staff to deal with the backlog.

“The increase is due to the drastic increases over the last year in county staff payroll to keep up with the back log of applications for SNAP,” stated a budget narrative from DHHS, “The increased caseloads, during a time we have implemented a new computer system that will speed up the certification process for clients for multiple programs simultaneously, has placed our counties in a situation where the current staff dedicated to SNAP was not sufficient to process applications.”

N.C. Policy Watch first requested information and details about the budget overages for the food stamps program on March 31. Information was not provided until Thursday afternoon, as state lawmakers received an update about the N.C. FAST program. (Scroll down to see document released by DHHS.)

North Carolina’s public records law states that all documents created in the course of public businesses belong to the public itself, and require government agencies to provide access to records “as promptly as possible.”

Several media outlets have detailed issues accessing public records under Wos’ tenure. An Associated Press reporter waited seven months for DHHS to respond to a request for work product records related to Joe Hauck, a DHHS consulate with personal connections to Wos. The news agency reported it ultimately received a handful of memorandums for Hauck, who earned $310,000 from the state agency for 11 months of work.

Also in March, the News & Observer reported it and Raleigh television station WRAL asked last September for records related to the sudden departure of state’s Medicaid director Carol Steckel, who left less than nine months after being hired.  Months after the request, no records have been released.

Coal ash clean upWasn’t it just several weeks ago that Gov. Pat McCrory was stating plainly that North Carolina needed to move its coal ash waste sites away from water as is being done in South Carolina? Now after much hemming and hawing and backtracking, it’s clear that no such things is going to happen — at least not with any help from the Guv. Yesterday, McCrory made his position reversal/wimp out official with an announcement that moving all the ash is now no longer part of his plan. Citizens will no doubt feel much safer however with his proposal to change the law so that, as WRAL reports:  “power companies would have to give the public faster notice of coal ash spills.”

In fairness, not everything the Guv had to say was terrible. As noted in a statement by Molly Diggins at the Sierra Club:

“We appreciate that the Governor has come forward with the outline of a plan to address the problem of leaking coal ash pits that are contaminating our state’s waters.

We are concerned, however, that the broad outline of the plan announced today appears to be prospective, and does not seem to address the immediate need to remove the source of contamination from pits next to waterways. Read More