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DMVThere have been several important court decisions of late so you may have missed an important one that came out this week. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle denied the state’s motion to dismiss an important lawsuit challenging discriminatory practices by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles in the treatment of people with disabilities.

According to Vicki Smith of Disability Rights North Carolina, the group’s director, DMV has long been making use of a set of imprecise and ill-defined procedures whereby many safe drivers who happen to have disabilities but who long ago received licenses and have had no change in their physical status are, as the result of simply being eyeballed by DMV examiners,  subjected to extra and burdensome tests and requirements to keep their licenses.

This is from a media release announcing the court victory: Read More

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This afternoon, the state Mining and Energy Commission will hold the second of four public hearings on proposed rules for regulating oil and gas development in North Carolina.

The hearing at the Wicker Center in Sanford comes amid new worries about the  waste water produced by hydraulic fracturing.

Think Progress reports on new research that finds ten percent of the contents of that fluid is toxic, but what’s really concerning is just how much we don’t know about the substance being injected into the earth.

Here’s more from Andrew Breiner’s story:

Frack_wikiAt least 10 percent of the contents of fracking fluid injected into the earth is toxic. For another third we have no idea. And that’s only from the list of chemicals the fracking industry provided voluntarily. That’s according to an analysis by William Stringfellow of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, reported in Chemistry World.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice of injecting fluid at high pressure into the earth, which breaks up oil- and gas-filled rock formations that is then extracted to the surface. The contents and makeup of that fluid have been a subject of controversy, largely because drilling companies are able to keep what’s in it a secret, and because the fluid has been known to leak and spill on a regular basis.

Stringfellow mostly used FracFocus’ voluntary registry of 250 fracking chemicals provided by the industry to check against existing toxicology information. He found that about 10 percent of the chemicals are known to be hazardous “in terms of mammalian or aquatic toxicology,” Stringfellow said at the a meeting of the American Chemical Society. But for almost a third of those 250 chemicals, there’s no publicly available information on their toxicity to humans or other life. And that’s not even counting the chemicals that the industry can simply choose to keep a secret.

FracFocus was in the news last week when drilling companies came under scrutiny for injecting diesel fuel into the earth to frack oil and gas, something for which they are supposed to have a permit. When that came to light, many companies simply went back and removed past mentions of injecting diesel.

Pressure is growing for companies to stop concealing the chemical mixtures they use for fracking. The companies Baker Hughes and Schlumberger chose to disclose their entire fracking formulas, and other companies may follow suit. “Industry knows what its problem compounds are, and they’re trying to replace those,” Stringfellow said. And until then, they’re likely to keep their formulas a secret.

Read the full article here.

For those wanting to attend Friday’s public hearing in Lee County, it will run from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Wicker Center, 1801 Nash Street, Sanford.

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Sea-level rise 2The latest story comes from New York but it might has well be Florida or North Carolina. Once again, politicians (this time led by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are opting for the politically expedient “quick fix” that will make everyone feel good for a few moments but do nothing to address the long-term scientific reality that confronts the American eastern and southern coasts.

This is from a “must read” editorial in yesterday’s New York Times by one of the nation’s leading coastal geologists, North Carolina’s own Prof. Rob Young of Western Carolina University:

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $207 million plan to dredge millions of tons of sand off the south shore of Long Island and spread it along the beaches and dunes. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will direct the federally financed project, says it will stabilize Fire Island and reduce the storm surge hazard for the mainland.

In fact, the project will do neither. It is a colossal waste of money and another consequence of the nation’s failure to develop a coherent plan to address the risks from storms faced by states along the eastern seaboard and gulf coast.

As Young goes on to explain, not only is the project unnecessary in that the barrier island in question is already naturally rebuilding itself (and that the dredging about to take place will disrupts important endangered wildlife habitats), but it’s also emblematic of a broader and even more serious problem: The U.S. literally has no comprehensive plan to deal with rising seas: Read More

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If Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s ruling finding the state’s new school voucher program unconstitutional caught you off guard, it shouldn’t have.

The editorial board for the Fayetteville Observer writes Hobgood’s decision was not only correct, it was the only ruling that should have been handed down from the bench. Here’s more from Friday’s editorial in the Observer:

School-vouchersNo surprise: Wake Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled exactly as he had to. North Carolina’s school voucher program is unconstitutional.

A fourth-grade remedial-reading student could have predicted that. Article IX, Section 6 of the N.C. Constitution leaves no wiggle room. Education funding “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” There’s no footnote about funding private schools.

Voucher proponents say they’ll immediately appeal to higher courts. They’re likely wasting their time, although judicial surprises certainly aren’t rare.

We’re not opposed to measures that help low-income families send their children to private schools, especially in situations where the public schools aren’t providing the quality education that they need. But the program has to be legal.

Florida faced the same constitutional question and created a court-approved voucher program that gives tax credits instead of direct payments. The program is popular and appears successful.

North Carolina voucher proponents were fully briefed on the Florida program, but chose instead to do something the courts quickly overturned. Maybe we need some remedial classes at the General Assembly.

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A new analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds that the vast majority of jobs created since 2009 are now paying even less than before the economic recovery began.

Today’s must-read story from Think Progress takes a closer look at this troubling trend:

NELP wage chart

Source: NELP, Think Progress

Some of the low-wage jobs that employ the most people have suffered even more. The food service industry has seen big drops: an 8.3 percent decline for restaurant cooks, 6.3 percent for food preparation workers, and 3.5 percent for servers. Maids and housekeepers have seen wages decline by 5.8 percent, as have home health aides, while personal care aides have seen a 6.3 percent decline. And retail workers have had wages go down by 4.2 percent.

Overall, across all jobs, median hourly wages have declined 3.4 percent between 2009 and 2013.

This trend is also troubling because these jobs have seen some of the strongest growth in the recovery, outpacing better paying ones. The NELP report notes that low-wage industries have accounted for 41 percent of job growth over the past year, employing 2.3 million more workers than when the recession began, while mid-wage industries have only made up 26 percent and high-wage ones have made up 33 percent. “Today, there are approximately 1.2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the Great Recession took hold,” it says.

The findings are also true here in the Tar Heel state. The NC Budget and Tax Center recently reported that since 2009, 8 out of every 10 jobs created pays below a wage that would allow a family to meet the growing costs for basic needs.