agriculture, Environment

DEQ levies largest fine in eight years on Sampson County hog farm

B&L Farms, an industrialized swine operation near Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County, was fined more than $87,698 by state regulators today for a waste lagoon breach that spilled 3 million gallons of feces and urine into nearby waterways and wetlands, killing at least 1,000 fish.

The spill occurred on June 12. DEQ investigators found that Bryan McLamb, who is permitted to raises 2,580 hogs at the farm, had allowed the level of waste to reach the top of the lagoon berm “for a prolonged period of time.” McLamb also failed to keep accurate spraying records and did not regularly inspect the lagoon levels.

McLamb is a contract grower for Smithfield Foods.

After the spill, testing by DEQ showed extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria — at least 3,000 times higher than water quality standards — downstream.

“The egregious nature of the violations and the severity of the environmental harm in this case require a serious penalty that holds the owner accountable for not operating in compliance with their permit conditions and the laws of North Carolina,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan in a prepared statement.

The B&L fine is the largest assessed on any concentrated animal feeding operation since at least 2012. In 2018, DEQ penalized Lanier Farms of Jones County $64,000 for an extensive history of noncompliance resulting in a 1 million gallon spill into the Trent River. Lanier also was a Smithfield contract grower. Facing Clean Water Act violations, the company later removed its hogs from Lanier’s operation.

News

New poll: Presidential race ‘extremely competitive’ in NC, but Trump running behind with two key groups

Ahead of Tuesday’s first presidential debate, a new Meredith College poll shows Joe Biden and Donald Trump essentially tied in North Carolina (45.7-45.4%) with just six percent of those surveyed saying they are undecided.

It should come as no surprise that Republicans strongly support four more years of Trump, with Democrats showing just as much enthusiasm for Biden.

The poll shows Trump leading among white voters, males, rural North Carolinians and those with less than a bachelor’s degree.

Biden leads among voters of color (+62.1% for Black voters), women (+10.5%), urban voters (+17.5), those with college degrees, and among Millennial and GenX voters.

Meredith College Poll Director David McLennan lays out the race this way:

“North Carolina is shaping up to be the key battleground everyone thought it would be heading into the election cycle. Although Trump has gained some ground in key groups like Hispanic voters, he is running behind Biden among suburban voters and women voters, two key groups that will determine the outcome of the presidential race in North Carolina.”

Down ballot, the U.S. Senate race may also be too close to call. The Meredith Poll shows Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham with a slim 1.3 percent lead over incumbent Republican Thom Tillis.  Almost twelve percent of those surveyed remain undecided in the Senate race.

Governor Roy Cooper appears to have more breathing room in his contest against Republican Lt. Governor Dan Forest.

Cooper is currently besting Forest 49.6-39.3% with eight percent undecided.

“The election is about the governor’s response to the pandemic and, as long as most citizens in the state seem to approve how the governor has handled that, it makes Dan Forest’s task very difficult,” explained McLennan.

Voters in the latest poll are also voicing confidence in the vote. Almost 80 percent of likely voters saying they are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that the vote count will be accurate in 2020.

And while absentee voting and early voting are popular this year, more than one-quarter of voters plan on casting their ballot on Election Day.

The online poll sampled 705 voters September 18-22 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.  Find the full results here.

Commentary

Facebook post exposes sham nature of GOP’s manufactured Board of Elections controversy

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out the story posted late Friday in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the Republican attempt to manufacture a controversy over the State Board of Elections’ recent commonsense decision to ease some roadblocks involving absentee ballots. As reporters Will Doran and Danielle Battaglia reported, the two GOP members of the board who resigned were not necessarily doing so of their own volition. Rather, as the wife of one of the men reported in a Facebook post, they were following orders from Republican Party bosses when they resigned in response to changes that they, themselves, had voted for. This from the N&O story:

Those resignations, of board members Ken Raymond and David Black, came in the wake of several highly critical press releases from the state’s top Republican politicians. A party spokesman confirmed to The News & Observer that they also came after a phone call with the top lawyer for the state Republican Party to convey that the NC GOP was “very unhappy.”

…On Facebook, Black’s wife wrote that his resignation was “not voluntary.”Deb Black’s Facebook comment read: “The GOP chairman neglected to mention that these resignations were not voluntary. They were told to resign. Sad times when republicans are firing intelligent and trustworthy republicans.”

….Deb Black went on to question the “true agenda” of the Republican Party in her Facebook post. “A fine example of politics at its worst,” she wrote.

“She posted them,” David Black said. “A lot of what she wrote about is stuff that’s on the surface. I think, the best thing to do is to say that she loves me very much, and I love her very much and I appreciate some of the things she writes and sometimes she gets her hackles up.”

As this morning’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com points out, Ms. Black’s post helps demonstrate what a sham the whole manufactured controversy is:

It turns out that the only thing “collusive” in the ginned-up controversy over the State Board of Elections’ efforts to settle some mail-in ballot lawsuits was the false outrage from Republican Party and GOP leaders in the General Assembly. It was a desperate ploy gone awry. It revealed the shameful and phony efforts – from the president on down – to create baseless distrust in our election and the security of our ballots….

Republicans wrongly claimed the non-partisan Board of Elections staff, the Democrats on the board and staffers from state Attorney General Josh Stein’s office had conspired and failed to provide complete information – and that was why the board was able unanimously (that’s Democrats and Republicans agreeing) on steps to take to settle the legal action.

There is NO excusing the actions of the Republicans – who now seek to insert close allies of Berger’s on the state Board – former state Sen. Trudy Wade and former state Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van Der Vaart….

It is time for the state Republican Party’s leadership to to show it believes in fair elections and a voting process that does all it can to encourage those eligible to cast ballots. To the degree Republican are unhappy, their misery is self-inflicted.

This conniving and conning misfired. Rather than discrediting our elections or their political rivals, state Republican leaders showed their own true motives and actions.

As usual, state GOP leaders should be ashamed. And, as usual, we won’t hold our breath waiting for an apology.

Courts & the Law, News

Breaking news: Trump picks Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, and D.C. girds for a fight

The U.S. Supreme Court. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump at the White House on Saturday introduced federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrettas his Supreme Court nominee, setting off a confirmation battle that could secure a conservative court for generations.

“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect and sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” Trump said in remarks in the Rose Garden with Barrett standing at his side. Barrett’s husband, Jesse, and seven children were in the audience for the event, and took the stage with her at the conclusion.

The president said Barrett “will decide cases based on the text of the Constitution as written.”

Barrett, 48, who sits on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, is a favorite among conservatives for her anti-abortion views, and given her age could serve on the highest court in the land for decades—justices are appointed for life. Her confirmation would give conservatives six of the court’s nine seats, potentially shifting rulings considerably to the right.

“My fellow Americans, the president has nominated me to serve on the United States Supreme Court, and that institution belongs to all of us,” Barrett said to the crowd of about 150 in the Rose Garden. “If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake.”

She said she looked forward to the confirmation process.

“I have no illusions…the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term or the long haul,” she said.

Senate Republicans are scrambling to schedule what’s expected to be mid-October nomination hearings before the Judiciary Committee for Barrett. Outraged Democrats have pointed out that would amount to unprecedented speed, with only 37 days from Saturday until the presidential election on Nov. 3.

A White House pool report said that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was among those present in the Rose Garden, as were fellow GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Hawley and Sasse also sit on the committee.

Trump said he expects the nomination process to be fairly quick.

“This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation,” he said, adding, “Should be easy.”

Trump after his remarks was scheduled to head to a rally outside Harrisburg, Pa., scheduled for later Saturday.

Four years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that the seat should not be filled in an election year. That nomination came 237 days before the 2016 presidential election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, criticized Trump for nominating a Supreme Court Justice before a next president is selected.

“The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court,” Biden said in a statement.”The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.

On average in recent decades it’s taken 43 days from the time of a president’s formal submission of a nominee to the Senate until the first public hearing, according to a Congressional Research Service report that looked at Supreme Court nominees from 1975 to 2018.

Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87 of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.  Read more

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: What ‘gender reveal’ parties really reveal

I’m just going to say it: Gender reveal parties are dumb. Outside of family and a (very) few friends, nobody cares if your baby is a boy or a girl.

Y’all: But it’s fun and cute! Stop being such a grumpy ol’ bag!

Look, when it was just about cutting a cake and seeing if the innards were dyed pink or blue, that was fine. You do you. Besides…cake. But, as you’ll see in a minute, things are clearly out of control.

On the other hand, I know I should look disappointed when the happy couple goes all cagey and says, “We want it to be a surprise!” What? Do you think there’s a chance it’s a wombat? OK, now I’m interested.

Maybe gender-reveals are the next logical step after extravagant promposals in high school and flash-mob wedding proposals in public places. We don’t want to do anything without an audience. If you didn’t announce the gender of your baby, as a Louisiana couple did, by having an alligator chomp into a blue-tinted watermelon, are you even pregnant?

Last week, a botched gender reveal involving pyrotechnics – PYROTECHNICS, Y’ALL—resulted in a California wildfire that forced 20,000 people out of their homes.

“It was awful being evacuated and not knowing if we’d ever see our home again but, we just have to know…was it a girl or a boy?” said no one ever.

This isn’t some COVID claustrophobic craziness or oddball do-gooding like the ice bucket challenge. These gender reveals need to go because—buzzkill warning ahead—it just makes us seem as shallow and self-absorbed as the rest of the world thinks we are.

We don’t wear masks because “waaahhh.” We don’t pause to think about how dangerous it is to combine flames and dry grass in the name of an over the top gender reveal because we want to crush Insta. And TikTok. And Snapchat. And Twitter. And, for the grannies, Facebook.

Last week’s wildfire resulted from using forced plumes of colored smoke into the air. When the Vatican does this, the whole world watches. Britney and Brandon…not so much.

Ten thousand scorched acres later, the family (unnamed) is feeling as foolish as that poor sap at the Cubs game when he famously reached out to catch a foul ball and nudged it out of the reach of an enraged Cubs outfielder. Instead of getting the out, the whole game went sour and the Cubs lost what looked like a sure chance to advance to the World Series for the first time in 58 years.

Sometimes, in our enthusiasm, we make bad choices.

The Washington Post reports gender reveal parties have been responsible for a plane crash (!), the destruction of 47,000 acres in the Arizona mountains and even the death of a grandmother who was struck by shrapnel when her family unwittingly created a straight-up pipe bomb to go off with a colorful explosion.

Your baby isn’t even here yet and you’re all competitive about “likes.” Just stop.

Celia Rivenbark knows she’s not invited to the shower now.