News

Gov. Cooper: Confederate monuments should come down; legislature must repeal 2015 law

Governor Roy Cooper took to social media Tuesday to speak out against last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and offer his suggestions for how best to handle Confederate markers in North Carolina moving forward. Cooper tweeted “It’s time to move forward. These monuments should come down.”

He expanded on his position in a new Medium post:

Gov. Roy Cooper

Last weekend, I watched with horror as events in Charlottesville unfolded. Having served as North Carolina Attorney General for 16 years, I am all too familiar with the racism, bigotry and full-out white supremacy that exist in corners of our society. But it was shocking to watch these elements displayed so publicly — venom and hatred shamelessly spewed in epithets. My stomach sank to learn that a peaceful counter-protester had been killed and many others injured as the hatred morphed into violence.

It started with a monument, stone and metal, inanimate and yet more provocative now than ever. Charlottesville could have been Raleigh, or Asheboro, or any other city in North Carolina that is home to a Confederate monument. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like for a person of color to pass by one of these monuments and consider that those memorialized in stone and metal did not value my freedom or humanity. Unlike an African-American father, I’ll never have to explain to my daughters why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains.

Some people cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. But history is not on their side. We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery. These monuments should come down.

Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums – not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds. And our history must tell the full story, including the subjugation of humans created in God’s image to provide the back-breaking labor that drove the South’s agrarian economy.

I understand the frustration of those fed up with the pace of change. But after protesters toppled a statue in Durham Monday night, I said there was a better way to remove these monuments.

My first responsibility as governor is to protect North Carolinians and keep them safe. The likelihood of protesters being injured or worse as they may try to topple any one of the hundreds of monuments in our state concerns me. And the potential for those same white supremacist elements we saw in Charlottesville to swarm the site, weapons in hand, in retaliation is a threat to public safety.

It’s time to move forward. And here’s how I plan to do that.

First, the North Carolina legislature must repeal a 2015 law that prevents removal or relocation of monuments. Cities, counties and the state must have the authority and opportunity to make these decisions.

Second, I’ve asked the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context.

Third, the North Carolina legislature should defeat a bill that grants immunity from liability to motorists who strike protesters. That bill passed the state House and remains alive in the Senate. The Senate should kill it. Full stop. Those who attack protesters, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state.

Conversations about race and our past are never simple or easy. They are deeply personal and emotional. As President Lincoln said, we must do this work “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.” President Lincoln was on point: we must do what we know is right, and we must do it the right way.

Read the governor’s full statement online.

News

Greensboro writer on being on the ground in Charlottesville

You need to make time to read this first-person piece on the chaos of this weekend’s deadly rally in Charlottesville by Greensboro’s own Jordan Green.

Green, a writer and senior editor at Triad City Beat, has been covering right-wing and white supremacist gatherings – and their counter-protests – for years. He wrote the piece from Charlottesville for The Nation magazine.

Green interviewed people on the scene, getting some sobering reflections from North Carolinians who showed up to protest the “Unite the Right” rally.

From his piece:

Tanesha Hudson, a local activist with Showing Up for Racial Justice, reflected on the trauma during a speak-out at McGuffey Park three hours after the attack.

“I really don’t know how to feel about today,” she said. “I know people didn’t come out here to lose their life. I know people came out here thinking that the police would at least protect us. We are citizens here in Charlottesville that pay our taxes, and our tax dollars didn’t work for us today; it worked for them. They were protecting them. They escorted them, they walked them out to make sure they were okay. They never once, never once even offered or lifted a finger. The only thing they lifted for us to do was shoot tear gas. They never once did anything to protect us—the people who are standing for peace and unity and love and togetherness.”

As she spoke, mourners laid flowers in a pile in the center of the park to honor those killed and injured in the attack. The mood in the stricken crowd modulated between defeat and resolve.

“This is like a replay of Jim Crow,” Hudson said. “I mean, I don’t know what other way to put it. I stand here as a young black lady, and I feel like I’m living through Jim Crow. I feel like today was a replay of 1960. Things I hear my grandmother and grandfather talk about, I witnessed today.”

Read the whole thing here.

News

Timothy Tyson on North Carolina’s anti-Confederate history

In the wake of Charlottesville and this week’s toppling of a Confederate monument in Durham, today’s N&O piece by best-selling author Timothy Tyson is well worth your time.

In the piece Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name and The Blood of Emmett Till, writes about North Carolina’s Confederate history…and its history of anti-confederate sentiment.

Tyson, a native North Carolinian and senior research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and Duke Divinity School, uses the piece to separate the historical from the political.

From the piece:

During the actual Civil War, the Confederacy bitterly divided North Carolina, the last Southern state to secede and the one with the highest number of battlefield deaths and the highest desertion rate. At times the conflict in North Carolina literally became “a war within a war.” Thousands of white North Carolinians took up arms against the Confederacy and far more refused to accept its authority. Thousands of black North Carolinians escaped enslavement and served in the Union army.

In 1861, Confederate officials complained that Eastern North Carolina was “infested with Tories and disloyal persons.” When federal troops captured the northeastern North Carolina coast in 1862, a thousand local white men immediately volunteered for the Union armies. Gov. Zebulon Vance called the conflict “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” and threatened to “take North Carolina out of the Confederacy.”

The Confederate Conscription Act, which exempted prosperous slaveholders from military service, turned many more Tar Heels against the war. That autumn of 1862, North Carolina’s own internal civil war began to rage. From the coastal swamps to the wilderness of the Blue Ridge, anti-Confederate guerillas, Unionists and runaway slaves battled the Confederacy; parts of North Carolina became virtually ungovernable.

Scores of public meetings in over 40 of the state’s then-86 counties demanded an end to the war. Campaigning for re-election in 1864, Vance declared, “The great popular heart is not now and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the politicians and not the people.” The notion that the Confederacy represents white North Carolina’s heritage is not historical but instead political.

Take the time to read the whole thing.

Environment, Legislature

DEQ had GenX info under Secretary Donald van der Vaart; under Michael Regan, delay attributed to scheduling conflicts

Donald van der Vaart, former Department of Environmental Quality secretary, was in charge when state officials first learned last fall there could be a problem with GenX in the Lower Cape Fear River. And the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority knew even earlier.

But not until June of this year, when the Star-News in Wilmington reviewed and reported on the study, did DEQ under the current administration begin to investigate the presence of GenX in drinking water.

According to a letter sent Aug. 14 from DEQ and the Health and Human Services department to  Sen. Bill Cook, and copied to the Senate and House leadership, in November 2016, “the previous administration” received a research report from the EPA and NC State University scientists regarding the Cape Fear watershed. This study, conducted in part by NC State professor Detlaf Knappe, showed GenX was present in the Lower Cape Fear and in untreated water at the Cape Fear utility. In 2013, the researchers found average levels of 631 parts per trillion of GenX in 37 samples of untreated water.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority received the same study in May 2016, according to the letter.

The letter was in response to communications sent last week from the Senate Republican Caucus. In that correspondence, lawmakers asked DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen a series of questions about Chemours and GenX. Lawmakers also requested a justification for their departments’ combined $2.5 million emergency appropriation.

Lawmakers had set a deadline of Aug. 14, at 5 p.m. for Cohen and Regan to provide the information.

Jamie Kritzer, DEQ communications director, told NCPW that it’s unclear who at DEQ originally received the study last November. Kritzer said the reason the current administration didn’t act more quickly is because this past spring, several staff members from the Division of Water Resources had tried to meet with Knappe to better understand the study results, but scheduling conflicts prevented that meeting from happening.

But it appears neither Chemours nor GenX  rose to enough importance under van der Vaart to merit a mention in the transition documents provided to the new DEQ administration. (Transition documents are used to transfer institutional knowledge from one administration to another.)

However a different study by Knappe regarding another emerging, unregulated contaminant — 1,4 dioxane — does. Under the heading, “Special studies: 1,4-dioxane,” Jay Zimmerman, chief of the Division of Water Resources, notes that the presence of high levels of 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River “may be an indicator of things to come as previously unregulated emerging pollutants are studied.”

The chemical, used to stabilize solvents, is being discharged by industries upstream near Burlington and Greensboro. Zimmerman wrote that federal discharge permits would be modified to require additional sampling to “better isolate the issue.” He also wrote that “efforts to reduce sources will result in significant cost and potential loss of industry opportunities.”

A geologist, Zimmerman has been with DEQ since 1987. He managed the section overseeing groundwater protection and animal operations before van der Vaart promoted him to DWR head in 2015.

Read more

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Gov. Cooper vetoes SB 16 over dangerous rollbacks to water quality protection

The governor’s veto last night of Senate Bill 16 has temporarily halted several environmental laws, including one that gives eminent domain power to Dominion Energy for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Gov. Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 16 , the Business and Regulatory Reform Act of 2017.

It passed the House and Senate when they convened for just one day earlier this month, and when many lawmakers were out of town attending a national legislative conference.

Cooper’s veto statement read:

We should make it easier, not harder, for state and local governments to protect water quality, whether through stormwater safeguards or by giving public health departments the ability to revisit wastewater permits if needed Rolling back ways to protect water quality is dangerous.

SB 16 includes a provision expressly enabling Dominion Energy to use eminent domain to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in eastern North Carolina. Currently, in-state companies can condemn private property for these types of projects. But Dominion is based in Virginia, and although the company co-owns the ACP with Duke Energy, needed this language to quickly proceed, should the project receive federal approval.

The bill also micromanages DEQ by giving the Environmental Management Commission — which is politically appointed more oversight over the agency’s reports. And the measure weakens coastal stormwater and development rules, and eliminates public input from landfill permit renewals. (NCPW annotated the bill, which we’ve included below.)

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr issued a statement shortly after the veto, “calling it a victory for clean water and property rights.”

“If SB 16 became law, it would open the door for oil companies using eminent domain to build dangerous pipelines through the back yards of families across the state. And it would make it more difficult for communities to hold local landfills accountable for poor practices. When it comes to clean water, SB 16 would literally pave the way for contamination. The bill’s language makes it easier for developers to skirt responsible stormwater controls, making it more likely that toxic contaminants enter our public waterways.”

SB 16 had taken on many forms since it was filed early in the session — Jan. 26. — serving primarily as a placeholder for various legislation that could be added later. One amendment that passed the House but failed in the Senate conference committee is worth watching: In June, Rep. John Bell, whose district includes counties within the Lower Neuse River basin, sponsored an amendment that would have directed the Legislative Research Commission to study flood control in that basin. While this sounds innocuous, building flood control reservoirs can create more problems than they solve. They eat up land, potentially creating environmental justice problems, and fragment ecosystems. (Ironically, a different bill would have weakened rules regarding riparian buffers, themselves a natural method of flood control.)

Under the amendment, the Legislative Research Commission would have also considered alternate water sources for Raleigh when flooding forces the US Army Corps of Engineers to lower the level of Falls Lake. Jordan Lake is already supplying water to more than 300,000 people, a number that is expected to grow; Lake Crabtree is contaminated with PCBs in the fish and sediment. Within the county, that leaves Lake Benson, near Garner. The supply of clean drinking water is definitely an issue facing Raleigh, but it seems strange to tuck such a far-reaching provision in an amendment to a omnibus bill.

Senate Bill 16 by LisaSorg on Scribd