Commentary

The hard and simple truth about the latest gerrymandered legislative maps

Raleigh politicos are all a dither today about the latest legislative maps proposed by Republican lawmakers and how they impact various incumbents. Unfortunately, here’s the plain and simple truth about this new proposal: It’s still fatally flawed because it’s still a blatant partisan gerrymander.

As Bob Phillips (pictured at left) of the nonpartisan government watchdog group told Raleigh’s News & Observer yesterday:

“North Carolina lawmakers had a golden opportunity this month to adopt fair, nonpartisan standards for drawing new legislative voting districts. Instead, they opted for politics as usual, keeping partisanship at the core of a deeply flawed redistricting process,” Phillips wrote in a post on the organization’s website. “…We the people deserve better. We deserve fairness, rather than partisan political games, on something as important as the creation of our congressional and legislative districts.”

Amen.

Commentary

Opportunities to speak out today (and tomorrow) on redistricting – be there! (Updated)

If you get a chance, try to attend a legislative redistricting hearing today. This is from the good people at Common Cause NC:

Proposed new NC House and Senate maps are available online now. You can view the House here and the Senate here. As expected, it looks like the same old partisan gerrymandering we’re used to seeing. But today (Tuesday, August 22) you can make your voice heard and let the General Assembly know you want a fair process and fair maps!

Attend one of the public hearings on Tuesday and let legislative leaders know it’s time for change when it comes to how we draw our voting maps.

Details for the Public Hearing

Date: Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Start Time: 4:00pm

Sign-up to speak at hearing beginning at 3:00pm

Locations:

Legislative Office Building
Room 643
300 N Salisbury Street, Raleigh

Beaufort County Community College
Building 9-Room 935
5337 US Hwy 264 East, Washington

Caldwell Community College
Bldg B-Room 104
2855 Hickory Boulevard, Hudson

Central Piedmont Community College
Hall Bldg-Rooms 215/216
1112 Charlottetowne Ave, Charlotte

Fayetteville Technical Community College
GCB (General Classroom Bldg)-Room 108
2817 Fort Bragg Road, Fayetteville

Guilford Technical Community College (Jamestown campus)
Medline Campus Center-Room 360
601 East Main Street, Jamestown

Halifax Community College
Bldg 100-Room 108
100 College Road, Weldon

We need as many North Carolinians as possible speaking out against partisan gerrymandering. Visit our website for more info and suggested talking points.

Can’t make the hearing? Comment online here.

The folks at Democracy North Carolina also have lots of information about today’s hearings here.

For those not living near any of the above sites, Democrats are planning to host Redistricting Reviews in some additional locations tomorrow (Wednesday, Aug. 23, 6:30-8:30 pm). Here are those details:

  • Wake County: Wake Tech Western Campus, 3434 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary – rotunda
  • Pitt County: Pitt Community College, 1986 Pitt Tech Road, Winterville – auditorium
  • Bumcombe County: UNC-Asheville,  1 University Heights, Asheville
News

Four things to have on your radar — after Monday’s solar eclipse

#1 The path forward in Afghanistan – President Trump addresses the nation at 9:00 p.m. tonight outlining a “path forward” for the U.S. in Afghanistan. Multiple reports indicate the president will authorize sending another 4,000 troops to the region.

North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, whose district includes Camp Lejeune, urged Trump in July not to increase troop levels.

Read Jones’ full letter here.

#2 The boys are back in town – House and Senate members return to Raleigh Tuesday where they will focus on six bills vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper and other legislation they may want to move before next year’s session. Lawmakers are also facing a September 1st court-ordered deadline to have new redistricting maps drawn and approved.

#3 Your chance to sound off on the proposed maps –  Tuesday afternoon legislators will hold seven public hearings across North Carolina regarding the new maps that are intended to correct their unconstitutional, racial gerrymandering.  Check out the newly released Senate and House maps below.

 

 

 

The public hearings begin at 4:00pm at the following locations:

  • Legislative Office Building: 300 N Salisbury Street, Room 643, Raleigh
  • Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute: 2855 Hickory Blvd, Building B, Room 108, Hudson
  • Central Piedmont Community College: 1112 Charlottetowne Ave, Charlotte
  • Fayetteville Technical Community College: 2817 Fort Bragg Road, General Classroom Building, Room 108, Fayetteville
  • Guilford Tech. Community College, Jamestown Campus: 601 E Main St., Medline Campus Center, Rm. 360, Jamestown
  • Halifax Community College: 100 College Road, Building 100, Room 108, Weldon
  • Beaufort County Community College: 5337 US Hwy 264 E, Building 9, Room 935, Washington, NC

Note: Individuals attending Tuesday’s public hearings are required to sign up and will have up to three minutes to speak.

#4 GenX back in the spotlight – On Wednesday, the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission holds an investigative hearing about GenX in Wilmington. The hearing at the New Hanover Government Center gets underway at 1:30pm.

Read more from environmental reporter Lisa Sorg on DEQ’s ability to regulate GenX in the Cape Fear River.

Environment

Q&A: Environmental attorney Derb Carter on DEQ’s power to regulate GenX (or not); lawmakers to hold hearing Wednesday

Sen. Harold Hardison in 1985: If there are no federal regulations, “the sky’s the limit.” Hardison died in 2015 at age 92. (Photo: Screen capture, UNC School of Government, UNC-TV)

In 1973, the year that Sen. Harold “Bull” Hardison of Lenoir County sponsored the controversial amendment that bears his name, the EPA was just three years old. The Clean Water Act was in its infancy, as was the modern version of the Clean Air Act.

And North Carolina, faced with the federal government flexing its regulatory muscle, needed a workaround. If the EPA hadn’t regulated certain pollutants, then the state shouldn’t have to regulate them, either. Without federal laws, “the sky’s the limit,” Hardison, a conservative Democrat told UNC-TV in 1985.

The Hardison amendment and its restrictions on the regulatory powers of DEQ are again under scrutiny as state environmental officials grapple with the contaminant GenX in the Cape Fear River and the drinking water in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

In essence, the Hardison amendment prohibits DEQ from adopting stronger environmental standards than the EPA’s rules regarding air, water and solid and hazardous waste. However, there is an exception within the law for “serious or unforeseen threats,” which allows DEQ to make temporary rules  governing pollutant levels in case of a crisis. GenX is arguably such as crisis.

DEQ’s regulatory authority is likely to be a topic of discussion Wednesday when the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission holds an investigative hearing about GenX.  The hearing, which will include public comment, runs from 1:30 to 5 p.m. at the New Hanover Government Center, 230 Government Center Drive, Wilmington. A tour of the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant will begin at 10:30 a.m.

(New to the Hardison amendment saga? The UNC School of Government has an excellent primer on the law.)

The legislature repealed the Hardison amendment in 1995, freeing the state to set more stringent regulations on water, air and waste. But in 2011, the Republican majority voted to reinstate it. And some legislators, including members of the Republican Senate Caucus, are invoking the “serious and unforeseen threats” exception to criticize DEQ for not using it to set temporary GenX standards in drinking water.

However, as is the case with a lot of legislation, it doesn’t fully consider the loopholes or relate to real life.

Chemours, responsible for discharging GenX into the Cape Fear, could argue that the chemical is not on the list of the EPA’s regulated pollutants for its “category of industry.”  Examples of these industrial categories include textiles, electroplating, chemical manufacturing.

As environmental attorney Derb Carter Jr. explains, Chemours could thread the legal needle and argue that DEQ can’t set a standard for GenX in this industrial category. This nuance is important, and to learn more about what DEQ can and can’t do under the amendment, NCPW spoke with Carter, director of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill office, about the finer points of the Hardison amendment and DEQ’s powers.

Derb Carter Jr., director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill office. (Photo: SELC)

NCPW: Does the Hardison amendment prevent DEQ from regulating GenX in the Cape Fear River in case of “serious or unforeseen threats”?
Carter: If the state wanted to adopt a very stringent standard for GenX — and there is no EPA numeric standard for GenX— it can do so.

But it’s not that simple. There’s a loophole.
Carter: The way the Clean Water Act works is that the EPA has national standards or effluent guidelines for categories of industries. The EPA has set standards for pollutants that these categories of industries can discharge. But there are no standards for GenX under EPA’s effluent guidelines for Chemours’s category of industry, or for that matter, any category of industry.

So how can companies like Chemours circumvent the state’s powers to regulate their discharge of emerging contaminants?
Carter: The Hardison amendment prohibits DEQ from adopting an environmental standard if a federal rule has been adopted pertaining to the same “subject matter.”  So whether the state can adopt a particular standard depends on how you define that — the “subject matter” of the federal rules.
If I were an attorney for Chemours, I’d argue that the “subject matter” of the federal rule is the comprehensive national standards for this category of industry. The comprehensive list of allowed pollutants doesn’t include GenX; because GenX is not included, the state cannot adopt a limitation for GenX for this industry.

Under the law, DEQ or the Environmental Management Commission can adopt a temporary rule in the case of “serious or unforeseen threats.” What about a permanent rule?
Carter: Under existing law, DEQ can move quickly to adopt a temporary rule, but only for a limited duration. Then it has to be replaced by a permanent rule, which has to go through rule-making process. That includes public notice and comment.

DEQ’s ability to enact a permanent rule, though, is being jeopardized in House Bill 162. The bill would prohibit DEQ or the Environmental Management Commission from doing that.
Carter: The bill passed by the Senate and pending in the House layers financial requirements on top of the Hardison amendment. Under the bill, an environmental regulation can’t cost more than $100 million over five years. That’s $20 million a year.  And a cost of $10 million over five years or $2 million a year requires legislative approval.

That’s really not much money. Cleanups are very expensive. A company could burn through that amount very quickly.
Carter: Yes, and under the bill you can’t count the benefit of the rule. So if it cost $100 million to regulate GenX but the benefit to the public is $800 million, DEQ or the EMC still couldn’t enact a rule to protect the public from GenX.
It’s completely outrageous. Instead of trying to impede the state’s ability to protect the public from water pollution through House Bill 162, the legislature should repeal the Hardison amendment and allow the state to adopt environmental protections necessary to protect the public.

What are the consequences of the legislature prohibiting DEQ or the EMC from enacting stronger rules than the EPA’s?
Carter: The Hardison amendment and its restrictions put North Carolina’s environmental protection at the mercy of [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration, which is not a particularly comforting thought. And it ensures North Carolina’s protections for air and water quality are at the bottom in the nation.

Source: General Assembly, UNC School of Government, Campbell University School of Law

Commentary

The best post-Charlottesville observations of the weekend

There were (and continue to be) lots of insightful takes on the Charlottesville disaster and what it says about (and means for) our country. Two of the best this past weekend, however, came from North Carolinians who issued powerful calls to action — not just passive disapproval or disagreement with the racist Right.

In the Charlotte Observer, local Black Lives Matter leader Tiffany Capers penned an on-the-mark assessment of what people who oppose racism need to do. This is from “Not being racist is not enough”:

“Not being prejudice against people of color; not discriminating personally or corporately, not expressing biases – these are good places to start. Not being racist aligns with our moral compass and may cause us to be disgusted by the mistreatment of others. Not being racist is a low bar for most of us.

However, becoming anti-racist moves us beyond a passive response of being appalled by what we see and stating one’s position, values and beliefs. Antiracism is about aligning one’s action with those beliefs; it means opposing racism and not just being offended by it.

Being antiracist requires that we actively learn and deepen our understanding of what racism is; that we accept the discomfort that will ensue; that we explore our biases with courage; we commit to be a part of the solution and we work to develop meaningful connection with people who do not share our racial identity.

Becoming antiracist requires that we actively create the world we want. It is a journey. Fortunately, the world is small – we can begin with the change that is possible in our own lives.”

Meanwhile, Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and Forward Together Movement, put it this way in a Sunday statement, as reported by Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“‘If you just pull down the statue but you do not pull down the statutes, the laws that support them, we still have issues.’ Barber said….

‘You can’t just renounce what happened in Charlottesville,” Barber said. “You’ve got to denounce what happened before Charlottesville that emboldened the people to go to Charlottesville….’ Read more