Falls LakeIt’s last-minute sausage making time down on Jones Street and lawmakers are doing their worst to ram through a raft of measures that are of, by and for the well-heeled special interests. See for example the 54-page “technical corrections” bill that was passed by the House last week and that’s scheduled to blitz through the Senate Rules Committee this morning.

On the environmental front, the last-minute mischief is taking many forms, including, as reporter Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning, another industry-designed threat to clean water. This is from Jarvis’ story entitled “Stream buffer protections rewritten by industry, DENR“:

A plan to update regulations that protect streams and rivers was adopted last year after a nearly five-year process that incorporated input from a wide range of interests.

In just five months this winter, the McCrory administration rewrote those rules with the help of private companies that had a financial stake in the outcome – including the company where state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla once worked….

Environmental groups that had been following the development of the new rules for years were surprised to find out the rules had been rewritten at all. They didn’t find out about it until this month, when a low-profile bill surfaced in the General Assembly that would authorize replacing the rules with the version written by the seven-member group.

“I didn’t even know they had met or issued a report,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, riverkeeper with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, who was involved with the original rules. “That was a shock. We had no idea. It was a little frustrating to know at the end of the process there were tweaks and other changes. We weren’t part of it.”

None of this is to say that there might not be good reasons to update the rules in this complex and important area. But the fact that the McCrory-Berger-Tillis team is plunging ahead without even informing — much less consulting — the state’s incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated environmental advocacy community is a testament to the bad faith that the state’s conservative political leadership has long brought (and continues to bring) to what ought to be its sacred duty to preserve our air, land and water.

Read Jarvis’ entire story by clicking here. Read the bill in question by clicking here.

more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

Attorney General Roy Cooper spoke out Monday following the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Cooper said while his office has “vigorously defended” North Carolina’s ban, today’s appellate ruling makes it clear that Amendment One will eventually be overturned.

“It’s time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the United States Supreme Court,” said North Carolina’s Attorney General.

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Watch Cooper’s full press conference here on WRAL.com.

DSC_3624On Sunday at Pullen Church in Raleigh at an event sponsored by the National Farm Worker Ministry, two members of the British Parliament–Ian Lavery and James Sheridan–joined American farmworker leader Baldemar Velasquez to speak to over 200 supporters about their current tour and mission in the U.S. to fight for justice among farmworkers.

Velasquez is the founder and President of FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which has been doing battle with R.J. Reynolds in an effort to force its hand into complying with humanitarian standards. R.J. Reynolds, a corporation headquartered in Winston-Salem, has consistently done nothing to prevent their contract farms from oppressing farmworkers. These human rights abuses include abject poverty, racism, sexual harassment, nicotine poisoning, intimidation and threats, exposure to lethal pesticides, miserable housing conditions in labor camps, and the denial of basic human rights and labor protections. As Ian Lavery noted after seeing their living conditions, “rapists and murderers” have it better in prison than many of these hard-working farm laborers. With fury and passion he repeatedly said, “it’s not right.”

British American Tobacco (BAT), a multinational corporation based out of London, owns 42% of R.J. Reynolds. Two members of BAT are also on the RJR board of directors. Because of this business relationship between the UK and the US’s second-largest tobacco company, the British Parliament can play a role in effecting change. Lavery and Sheridan told the audience at Pullen that as they have toured tobacco farms throughout the South, they have been brought to tears on multiple occasions. Both expressed shock at the intimidation, mistreatment, harassment, and poverty they have witnessed. Lavery spoke of a woman he met holding a baby in her arms who told him of how her employer had demanded sex if she wanted to keep her job and get paid. He spoke of a man who had lost a finger who was left bleeding for an hour before his employer was forced to take him to the hospital.

Though at times painful, it was incredibly inspirational to see and hear from two foreign political leaders who had come so far to tour the tobacco farms of the American South. Both men deserve enormous credit for their selfless efforts to expose the horrific conditions of farm laborers who, as Lavery stated, are often not actually “living” but merely “existing.” As he also rightly noted, while there may be poverty in every country on earth, there is no excuse for this level of poverty and dehumanization in the wealthiest nation on the planet. Indeed, the one thing that struck both men the most on their tour was the degree of blatant dehumanization on the contract farms and in the labor camps — dehumanization that would outrage any fair-minded person in any country.

The bottom line: As desperate (and even hopeless) as the situation may seem, there is cause for hope. Last night, nearly 200 activists left the event fired up to reach out to their fellow North Carolinians and demand that they respond in a morally appropriate manner by joining the fight for basic human rights for their suffering sisters and brothers. As Baldemar Velasquez stated, at this point, the immediate goal is not victory but merely to put up a good fight. Only when people of good will begin to stand up and fight against the injustices that plague the nation’s farmworkers will we begin to realize the kind of small victories that can, ultimately, lead to fundamental change.

Let’s get to work.

Gay marriage 3

In a 2-1 ruling today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which decides appeals from federal courts in  Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland — found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The precedent from the ruling applies to all of these states.

Affirming a lower court ruling and writing for the Court in Bostic v. Schaefer, Judge Henry F. Floyd said:

We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.

The decision is not effective immediately, though. Per the judgment entered by the court, the ruling will take effect after a mandate is issued in the case — “7 days after expiration of the time to file a petition for rehearing expires, or 7 days after entry of an order denying a timely petition for panel rehearing, rehearing en banc, or motion for stay of mandate, whichever is later.”

A petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court may also follow.

Several challenges to North Carolina’s bans on same-sex marriage are working their way through the federal courts, including two cases filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in federal court in Greensboro.

Fisher-Borne et al. v. Smith was filed in July 2013 on behalf of six families across the state headed by same-sex couples as an amendment to a 2012 lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions.

Gerber and Berlin et al. v. Cooper was filed in April 2014 on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action.

“Today’s ruling sets a clear precedent for courts in North Carolina and is the most significant step to date toward securing the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples in our state,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “Though there is still much work that needs to be done, this ruling has given an enormous boost to our efforts to ensure that all loving and committed couples are able to have the security and dignity that comes only with marriage.”

A third suit, General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, was filed in federal court in Charlotte on behalf of same-sex couples and four national religious denominations – the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Central Conference of American Rabbis – in addition to Episcopalian, Jewish and Baptist clergy from across North Carolina. The same-sex couples are seeking the freedom to marry and the clergy are seeking the religious freedom to perform wedding ceremonies for such couples. 

“Federal courts in recent months have made clear – emphatically and unequivocally – that it is unconstitutional for state governments to discriminate against loving and committed couples who want the benefits and security that marriage provides,”said Jacob Sussman, lead counsel for plaintiffs in General Synod and partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

The Court’s  ruling is the third federal appeals court decision upholding marriage, following recent rulings by the 10th Circuit in Utah and Oklahoma.

Utah is in the process of seeking review of the decision involving its law by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read the Fourth Circuit decision in Bostic here.

State lawmakers may come together with a final budget bill this week, but environmentalists say there is plenty of work to do on a final coal ash management bill before legislators wrap-up the session.

Grady McCallie, policy director for the NC Conservation Network, says both the House and Senate versions of the coal ash bill (now in conference committee) are weaker than current law.

Click below to hear McCallie discuss the shortcomings in Senate Bill 729, and click here to hear his full 10 minute radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon.

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A new poll by Public Policy Polling commissioned by the NC League of Conservation Voters finds that 76% of voters surveyed think the General Assembly should require all coal ash ponds to be removed from waterways. Just 16% think they should be allowed to be capped and left in place.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled says they consider the environment be ‘very important’ in determining how they will vote in the next election.

To view the crosstabs on that poll, click here.