News

U.S. Attorney’s offices across the state filed a series of criminal cases today accusing Duke Energy of negligent discharge of coal ash and coal ash wastewater into rivers adjacent to company coal ash plants.

In Raleigh, the misdemeanor charges were filed in connection to spills at the H.F. Lee Steam Plant.

In Charlotte, similar charges were filed arising out of spills at the Riverbend and Asheville plants, according to the Charlotte Observer.

And in the state’s Middle District in Winston-Salem, charges were filed for negligent discharge at the Dan River Steam Station in  Eden and permitting and inspection violations at the Cape Fear Electric Steam Station in Moncure.

The charges follow Duke’s announcement earlier in the week of a possible $100 million settlement of the federal government’s investigation into spills at the plants.

In a statement released late yesterday, the company said that it had reached a proposed agreement with the federal government settling the charges that includes payments of $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation — to be borne by shareholders, not customers.

The settlement agreement, which as of the time of this post has not been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s offices involved, must be approved by the court. 

It also does not resolve claims in pending civil cases arising out of coal ash spills and does not appear, per the Duke Energy statement, to provide specifically for clean up at each of the company’s plants in North Carolina.

In response to the announcement, Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents several citizens groups in those pending actions, said in a statement:

Today, Duke Energy has admitted that it committed environmental crimes in its coal ash storage across North Carolina.  We informed Duke Energy and DENR of these violations of the Clean Water Act in 2013, yet Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash storage has yet to be cleaned up and has now resulted in criminal prosecutions.  The important points is this:  Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal, it has to clean its way out.  Duke Energy and its executives must show the people of North Carolina that they are sorry for these crimes by moving the dangerous and polluting coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage away from our rivers and drinking water supplies.

Read the Criminal Informations in the Raleigh cases below.

Duke Criminal 1 by NC Policy Watch

Duke Energy Criminal 2 by NC Policy Watch

Commentary

raise the wageIn the giant banana republic of haves and have nots that the U.S. economy has increasingly come to resemble, any bump in the pay dosed out to front line workers by a company as huge and generally predatory as Wal-Mart — however modest — is a good thing. When a half-million people are able to take home a few more bucks a week, that’s good for them and good for the companies with whom they shop…like Wal-Mart. So hooray for the news.

Lest anyone get too moist in the eyes, however, and/or start cranking out humanitarian award nominations for the Walton family gozillionaires, it should be noted that the raises (1.1 percent for the average full-time wage over the next year, to $13 an hour and 5.2 percent for part-timers to an average $10 an hour, by February 2016) still leave those workers bringing home incomes much too low to live on. As the Associated Press reports about the new wage rates:

“Both fall below the $15 an hour ‘living wage’ many union-backed Wal-Mart employees have been pushing for. Driven by rising income inequality and a decades-long decline in middle-class jobs, workers are also campaigning for steep wage hikes at other major non-unionized employers, including McDonalds and other fast food chains….

In Fayetteville, Arkansas — near the company headquarters — a single parent of one child would need to earn $16.85 an hour, almost $4 an hour more than Wal-Mart’s pay raise for full-time workers, according to a living wage calculator created Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The calculator examines the costs of food, housing, transportation and medical care around the country.

In pricier parts of the country, the living wage is far higher: In Philadelphia, it rises to $19.68 an hour. In San Leandro, California, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s more affordable suburbs, a single parent’s living wage is $23.22.”

The living income standard for a worker with one child in North Carolina averages $16.21 per hour.

Of course, the real solution to the problem of poverty level wages for workers across America would be a sizable bump in the federal minimum wage. President Obama has proposed raising it from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, but obviously, a genuine living wage would be significantly higher.

As the Los Angeles Times editorialized this morning, Wal-Mart’s actions should send a signal to Congress that it’s well past time for such action. Let’s hope fervently that such a message gets through ASAP.

But don’t hold your breath.

Commentary, News

1. UNC Poverty Center facing closure, as university system leaders finish review of centers
Three centers in the university system – including a poverty research center run by an outspoken law professor —   should be shut down, according to recommendations approved Wednesday by a special committee of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity was the most well-known among the three [Continue Reading…]

2. One North Carolinian with the power to save thousands of lives
An open letter to North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger To: The Honorable Phil Berger President Pro Tem of the North Carolina Senate State Legislative Building Raleigh, NC 27601 Dear Senator Berger: My purpose in writing to you today is not political. It is not about blame. It is not about playing a [Continue Reading…]

3. McCrory’s mysterious and troubling claims about worker’s compensation
One of the most startling claims made by Governor Pat McCrory in his State of the State address to the General Assembly earlier this month was his statement about problems with the way worker’s compensation claims were paid to state employees. “Our examination of workers compensation estimates that 40 percent of workers costs [Continue Reading…]

4. Death to the Map Act 
Court of Appeals says DOT must pay owners for land taken for proposed road projects
Michael Hendrix had a contract to sell eight of his 24 acres of land at Old Hollow and Germanton Roads in Winston-Salem for more than a million dollars in early 1998. But because the state Department of Transportation [Continue Reading…]

5. Local school districts submit plans to the General Assembly for differentiated teacher pay pilot
Seventy five of North Carolina’s 115 school districts have submitted teacher compensation proposals to the General Assembly with the hope of participating in a pilot program that would reward highly effective teachers with bonuses.

The pilot, “Differentiated Pay for Highly Effective Teachers,” comes at a time when the state is facing what some say is a crisis when it comes to recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. [Continue Reading…]

News

The Justice Department will seek an emergency order from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the federal government to move forward with the President’s immigration programs while it appeals a Texas federal judge’s ruling halting those programs, according to the New York Times.

The move follows on the heels of Monday’s late night ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen that the president failed to adhere to basic administrative procedures when issuing orders that would have provided sweeping relief to as many as five million undocumented immigrants.

Here’s a quick timeline of what might happen next, courtesy of Vox:

  1. This is a relatively aggressive move by the administration. The court battle over the president’s executive actions will still take a long time, but the stay means that the next phase will happen very quickly.
  2. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will now have to consider the stay. Its ruling could come within days of the filing, but will likely take a few weeks.
  3. The 5th Circuit is one of the country’s most conservative appeals courts, making it more likely that they might side with the lower-court judge and keep the president’s new “deferred action” programs from going into effect.
  4. If that happens, the Obama administration would be expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
  5. Ultimately, if the administration wins a stay, the deferred-action programs could start back up in only a few weeks.
  6. If the Supreme Court sides with the states, the programs will be frozen for a matter of months or years while the case makes its way through the courts at the usual pace.

 

 

News

Wilmington’s mayor along with representatives of EUE/Screen Gems Studios and the regional film commission announced Thursday they will push for an expansion of North Carolina’s $10 million film grant fund this session.

Mayor Bill Saffo is hopeful that the Republican-controlled General Assembly might be more willing to expand the new grant program, rather than reinstate the film incentives lawmakers abandoned in 2014.

Rep. Susi Hamilton believes it may be “premature” to give up on the film incentives this early in the session. The New Hanover County legislator recently introduced a bill that would renew several economic development tax credits that had been allowed to expire.

Hamilton joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the importance of film incentives, the historic rehabilitation tax credit, and the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

For a preview of Rep. Hamilton’s radio interview click below.

Film companies that pumped $170 million into in the Wilmington-area economy last year are expected to spend less than $50 million this year, according to Wilmington’s mayor.

To read the Omnibus Economic Development Improvements bill, click here.

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