While Tropical Storm Michael deluged NC, Resource Institute rained money into Moore, Berger campaigns

 

The Atlantic Reefmaker is constructed of concrete and stone. Early versions of the wave breaking technology were square; now they are octagonal. (Photo: Atlantic Reefmaker website)

In October, while North Carolinians were battening down the hatches for the second major storm in a month, $31,000 flowed into the coffers of five lawmakers from a nonprofit organization keen on drumming up business along the coast.

With just a few weeks left until the general election, executives with the Resource Institute and Atlantic Reefmaker, a for-profit company and contractor, contributed to Sen. Pro Tempore Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, Sen. Harry Brown and Reps. Kyle Hall and Dana Bumgardner.

ContributorCandidateAmountDate
Charles AndersonSen Harry Brown1500October 9, 2018
Michael SmithSen Phil Berger1000October 12, 2018
Michael SmithSen Harry Brown1000October 17, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandSen Phil Berger4000October 12, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Dana Bumgardner1000October 8, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Tim Moore5000October 11, 2018
Darrell WestmorelandRep Kyle Hall5000October 12, 2018
Stephanie WestmorelandRep Kyle Hall5000October 12, 2018
Shawn WilkersonRep Tim Moore3750October 11, 2018
John HuttonRep Tim Moore3750October 11, 2018
31000

When added to previous campaign contributions, these and other donors have given nearly $150,000 to just a handful of powerful Republican lawmakers since 2016.

It’s unclear why the financial piling on was necessary. As Policy Watch reported in July, the Resource Institute gave $116,000 to various political campaigns, including Moore, Berger and Hall. After two years of giving, the money finally paid off: Lawmakers inserted into the budget bill a $5 million grant to the Resource Institute — pass-through money from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which was surprised by the appropriation.

The funding was intended for an ill-defined beach nourishment study, even though the Resource Institute, 250 miles inland, had never done that type of work

Now, though, the Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief Bill, which passed last week, has narrowed the scope of work from the coast in general — which, judging from a tepid reception by shoreline protection officials, was a non-starter — to Topsail Island in Pender County.

The idea of Topsail had been floated this summer when Darrell Westmoreland of Atlantic ReefMaker told Policy Watch that the company wanted to deploy this relatively new technology to stabilize the New River Inlet. Developed in Florida, the Reefmaker is a stack of molded concrete trays set with rock, such as granite. They are constructed on fiberglass pilings installed on the sea floor or riverbed. The purpose is to break up wave energy, while allowing water, fish, sand and other aquatic life to pass through.

Atlantic Reefmaker recently conducted a full-court press on the Department of Transportation board. On Nov. 7, Randy Boyd, an engineer with the firm, provided more details on the technology. Some board members seemed impressed, but others had questions about its longevity.

“How long did they last in Florida?” asked one board member. “I don’t know,” replied Boyd. “But they’ve been there quite a bit of time.”

UNC Wilmington is under contract to monitor the Reefmaker’s performance, Boyd told the board.

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Update: DEQ Sec’y Regan says “all legal options” could be used on Chemours

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan (Photo: DEQ)

NCPW reported on the EPA findings earlier today. Read the story and check back for updates.

During a media call today, NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said the state could subpoena Chemours’s company health and scientific studies on the unregulated compounds it’s discharging into the Cape Fear River.

While that data is proprietary and most likely could not be publicly released without a court order, the information could better equip state environmental and health officials to evaluate possible health effects from exposure to emerging chemicals.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said there are no publicly available scientific studies on these newly discovered perfluorochlorinated compounds, including two known as Nafion byproducts. Without that information, the DHHS toxicologist cannot determine a health goal or standard for them. Absent that information, Cohen said, her department’s recommendation stands: The water is safe to drink.

DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen (Photo: DHHS)

The call was arranged after DEQ and the DHHS announced today that the EPA had analyzed state samples and found that additional and undisclosed chemicals had been found at the Chemours discharge points and in the drinking water at Wilmington’s Sweeney plant. Concentrations of two of those chemicals, known as Nafion byproducts, have not decreased, even while levels of GenX and three other previously unknown compounds have.

House Republicans accused DEQ and the Cooper administration of withholding important information about the new findings. However, Cohen said the EPA “briefed” state officials via a PowerPoint presentation on Monday, but the final report was not received from the federal government until this morning.

Regan said DEQ staff is methodically combing through the 50,000 pages of information that Chemours provided this week as part of the department’s demand for information. After that review is complete, DEQ will know better if a violation has occurred, Regan said. That review will also inform the department’s decision about whether to renew Chemours’s discharge permit, and if so, what restrictions to place on the company. Regan reiterated that if the permit is renewed, Chemours will not be allowed to discharge GenX and any other emerging compounds or contaminants of concern.

DEQ sent a letter to Chemours demanding it immediately provide additional information about the latest findings. Regan said Chemours acknowledged the correspondence and that the company said it would do so “ASAP.”

NC DEQ Secretary Regan: “I want to create an open and inclusive agency”

Michael Regan, the nominee for NC DEQ secretary, speaks to the NC Chamber: “I’m not afraid to ask tough questions.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Michael Regan hugs trees.

But the presumptive secretary for the Department of Environmental Quality also shakes hands with business executives, who commonly chafe at the regulations that keep those trees standing.

“There’s nothing wrong with hugging a tree,” Regan told a crowd of 150 North Carolina Chamber members on Tuesday. “But protecting the environment and a having a strong business community are not mutually exclusive.”

The two previous –and unpopular — DEQ secretaries, John Skvarla and Donald van der Vaart, made similar comments when they began their respective reigns. What sets Regan apart is his experience with the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF is no Greenpeace; it’s known as a mainstream group that forges partnerships with major corporations: McDonald’s, Smithfield, Duke Energy and Walmart. Yet Regan’s embrace of clean energy, energy efficiency and environmental justice breaks from the business über alles approach of the last four years.

During Regan’s tenure at EDF and EPA — at the agency he served under both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — Regan learned to thread the needle between environmental protection and business interests. “”There are non regulatory and regulatory approaches to protecting the environment. I was at the nexus of policy and politics,” Regan said. “Managing scientists, spending time with stakeholders, trying to get complicated rules out of the agency. What I learned is that everyone wants a level of certainty, to be heard and to participate in a fair process.”

Regan said his priorities include “unleashing the expertise at DEQ.” That expertise and knowledge, forged over decades by career employees, was chained to political considerations under Van der Vaart. Regan also plans to  address the backlog of permits and “increase transparency and stakeholder engagement.”

“I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions,” he said, as many DEQ division chiefs sat in the audience.

Regan can expect to field tough questions during his Senate confirmation hearing, particularly regarding his time at EDF. During a special session in mid-December, Republicans invoked a little-used statute allowing them to hold confirmation hearings for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet picks, presumably to derail their nominations. Those hearings, expected to be contentious, are scheduled to begin Feb. 8.

Already the hard-right faction of the Republican Party, led by the Civitas crowd, has labeled Regan a radical — which he clearly is not. However, support from the chamber and its membership could help calm legislative turbulence. So could Regan’s personal history: In addition to his environmental and policy bona fides, he is an African-American from Goldsboro, an area hard hit by Hurricane Matthew. His ties to eastern North Carolina also prime him to address, and possibly begin to resolve, the environmental justice issues associated with industrialized swine farms. If Senate lawmakers fail to confirm Regan, they risk alienating voters in that part of the state.

“I’m reaching out to legislative leadership,” Regan said. “They are one of our most important partners. I can’t do my job without a respectful relationship with the legislature.

“I want to create an open, inclusive agency,” he went on. “To work with stakeholders, to find creative solutions to complex situations.”

ICYMI: Constitutional law Professor Michael Gerhardt on the Merrick Garland nomination and its implications for the U.S. Supreme Court (Full video)

It’s been well over a month now since President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. To date, however, Senate Republicans (including Richard Burr and Thom Tillis) have remained adamant that Garland’s nomination will not even receive a hearing – much less an “up or down” confirmation vote.

To veteran constitutional law expert, Professor Michael Gerhardt, this is an important and disturbing turn in the history of the Court and the politics surrounding it. As Gerhardt has explained in a variety of national publications, Garland is one of the most distinguished and well-prepared nominees in Supreme Court history. If senators follow through with their plans to ignore the nomination, it will have important implications for the future of the Court.

Gerhardt spoke to Policy Watch’s audience in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday, May 10th.

Please watch and then share this special presentation:

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What Michael Moore Can Teach Us

 I’m sure most of you have either seen Michael Moore’s latest release, SiCKO, or you have read the numerous reviews.  It is an excellent piece of work on many different levels.  Mostly, it is an indictment of the private for-profit health insurance industry.  As such, he is advocating for government sponsored universal health coverage and contrasts the American healthcare system with those of Canada, England, France, and Cuba.

 

In my opinion, there are two aspects to this film which will help advance the cause of universal health coverage.  Both of them have to do with confronting the fear of “socialized medicine.”  This is important because you can be sure that the titans of the healthcare industry (including my own American Medical Association) will ratchet up the fear factor as they have always done in the past.

 

First, Moore accurately observes that we already have numerous respected institutions in America that are “socialized.”  He specifically mentions firefighters, policemen, and postal workers (sort of).  To that, I would also add our armed services.  Moore asks, why not healthcare?  Indeed, why not healthcare.  We would never ask our fellow citizens to accept different tiers of police or fire protection based on their ability to pay, or their employer, or a “pre-existing condition.”  It seems absurd that we accept this discrimination with our health care.

 

Second, Moore puts a human face on universal healthcare as he showcases how the system works in other countries.  He interviews patients, doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.  He shows the outpatient clinics, hospital wards, and the state-of-the-art technology.  He dispels myths about choosing your doctor or hospital, and about waiting lines and “rationed” care. 

 

For American patients, I believe the biggest hurdle to overcome is being able to visualize what exactly “universal health coverage” would look like.  Moore’s film lets you see and feel and hear what it would be like to be a patient in a single payer system.   This is a priceless gift from Moore.  As any good physician will tell you, addressing your patients fears must be the first step in their treatment.

 

Addendum:  Really…go see the film.  There are plenty of mostly minor things to quibble with (For instance, I thought Moore’s trip to Cuba with the sick 9/11 volunteers was ridiculous).  The most fun for me were the numerous historical tidbits.  Did you know that England’s National Health Service was instituted in 1948?  The plucky Brits, bankrupt and still recovering from WW 2, had the foresight that we did not.  For America, it was not a matter of money, but of priorities.  America embarked on an arms race when we could have made different choices, and we haven’t stopped running yet.   And while we are on the subject of documentaries, this is a good time to recommend one of my favorites:  Why We Fight (2006).  You will learn just how pervasive the influence of the military/industrial complex is in our government.  When you think about what we as a nation could be doing if we weren’t spending $600 billion dollars annually on defense… it will SiCKEN you.