The best editorial of the weekend identifies one obvious gun safety solution

If you missed it, be sure to check out yesterday’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal. In “Gun research is needed,” the authors highlight one simple step that ought to be taken to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic. Here’s the conclusion:

“It’s time to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turn its considerable resources on gun violence, something that clearly threatens the well-being of Americans, especially our children. CDC research identifying the causes of deaths and injuries from car crashes has led to greater use of seat belts and child seats and to safer car designs. The CDC helped us figure out and deal with the health threats from smoking, including second-hand smoke.

But since 1996, the CDC has largely had its hands tied when it comes to dealing with gun violence. The so-called Dickey Amendment passed that year, with NRA backing, said that the CDC’s injury center could not use federal funds “to promote or advocate gun control.” That was followed by Congress’ taking away the money that the CDC had been using for research into gun violence. While the Dickey Amendment wasn’t, strictly speaking, a ban on gun research, the CDC got the message. With almost no money available anyway, the CDC dropped research on gun violence.

We support scientific research on so many other threats, but we continue to recycle the same old arguments about guns, based often on emotion and misconceptions about what many people on the “other side” really believe. How much better it would be to get answers based on scientific research about the causes of gun violence, which approaches would actually work to reduce it, and what we can learn from the experience of other countries.

Democrats have long called for lifting restrictions on the CDC. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, some Republicans in Washington are showing signs that they might be willing to relent. Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro), for one, has been quoted as saying he doesn’t “have a problem with anyone researching any segment of society” and would have a problem with blocking research.

The NRA has tended to treat any talk of research into gun violence as a threat to gun rights. That shouldn’t be the case. Skilled scientific researchers should be able to find ways to reduce the violence without jeopardizing sensible Second Amendment rights. Let’s let them get to work.”

The only thing wrong with the editorial is its gentle description of the NRA’s opposition to research. The NRA hasn’t just “tended” to oppose research, it has forcefully and relentlessly opposed it. As Congressman David Price told Policy Watch a few weeks back after the Parkland, Florida shooting, he’s been trying for years to reinstate CDC research, but gets beaten back every year by NRA-owned members of Congress. Let’s hope cracks are starting form in this irrational opposition, but, given the NRA’s past destructive and murderous record, don’t hold your breath.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. Results from federally mandated tests: Toxics abundant in groundwater near Duke coal ash ponds

Arsenic. Boron. Selenium. Radium. These toxic contaminants, and many others, are profuse in the groundwater near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, proving what environmental advocates, neighbors and scientists have long been asserting: The ponds are leaking. The flow of groundwater cannot be controlled. These contaminants are inevitably entering private wells, potentially posing health risks to those drinking the water. And without a statewide, routine monitoring network of private drinking water wells, it is impossible to know the full extent and nature of the contamination.

Policy Watch analyzed the most recent groundwater results released by Duke Energy in its first annual report as required by federal coal ash rules. In more than 5,500 pages, the data for four plants showed that levels of chemical contamination routinely exceeded state and federal groundwater and drinking water standards in monitoring wells near the plants. The data was collected in 2016 and 2017 and analyzed by independent contractors hired by Duke Energy. [Read more…]

2. The Trump three-ring circus directly threatens NC
Administration lays the groundwork for offshore oil and gas drilling with faux “public hearing”

There are so many reasons not to introduce offshore oil and gas drilling along the fragile North Carolina coast that it ought not to be even a close call. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the widespread opposition of the rank and file North Carolinians most likely to be directly impacted by such a scheme, the bizarre three-ring circus that is the administration of President Donald Trump is plowing ahead and laying the groundwork for what could, quite likely, be an economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions.

As Policy Watch Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg explained last week, the most recent development in this sordid saga was the so-called “public hearing” that Trump administration officials in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held last week in Raleigh. The particulars of the event provided a classic example of the Trump administration at its plutocratic worst. [Read more…]

3. Owners of bail bond outfits admit industry abuses and shortcomings, call for reforms

Jimmy Roberson has read a lot about the bail bond industry in North Carolina lately – from violence and fraud to wide-ranging criminal investigations and million dollar lawsuits.

A bail bondsman in the state for nearly 30 years, Roberson hates that his profession has developed such a bad reputation, but he acknowledges that much of it is deserved.

“I came into doing this in 1988,” Roberson said in an interview this week. “Since then we’ve just got too many people in the business that shouldn’t be there – these big insurance companies have come in and they’ve brought in all these agents who don’t have their own money on the line and will just do anything.” [Read more…] Read more


DEQ extends public comment period on draft coal ash rules

The public has extra time to comment on the state’s draft rules governing the design, construction and operation of coal ash landfills. The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today that it is extending the comment period by two weeks — to April 6.

A fourth public meeting will be held Tuesday, March 27, at 6 p.m. in Ballroom A of  the Gastonia Conference Center, 145 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Gastonia.

Many environmental advocates had criticized DEQ for announcing its first of three public meetings, in Roxboro, with just four days’ notice. The draft rules are 87 pages long, and advocates complained to the state that they had insufficient time to read them and prepare their comments.

The draft rules address coal combustion residuals, which includes coal ash. When these CCRs, as they’re known, are excavated from impoundments, the material may be placed in a capped and lined landfills, shipped to old clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties to be used as structural fill, or reused in concrete and wall board.

The draft rules incorporate specific requirements from federal rules for those coal ash landfills. A section of the rules also addresses dams at the coal ash landfills.

There is a complication in the state’s rule-making, however. The EPA recently announced it is considering relaxing regulations regarding CCRs, including the siting and operation of landfills. How any new EPA rules dovetail with state regulations remains uncertain. The specifics of EPA’s proposal had not been published in the Federal Register as of today. After the EPA’s draft is published in the register, the public will have 45 days to comment.

Commentary, News

NC religious leaders voice opposition to Trump’s offshore drilling push

The list of opponents to the Trump administration’s plan to bring offshore oil and gas drilling to the North Carolina coast just continues to grow. Yesterday, a collection of North Carolina religious leaders added their names to it. This is from the release that accompanied the announcement:

34 North Carolina Religious Leaders Oppose Trump/Zinke Plans for Offshore Drilling

North Carolina religious leaders part of 300+ nationally urge Administration to protect coastal communities

In response to President Donald Trump and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s proposal to auction off nearly every piece of America’s coastline to private oil companies, 34 religious leaders in North Carolina urged the Administration to invest in renewable energy instead of expanded fossil fuel exploration. The joint letter from the religious leaders comes at the end of a 60-day federal comment period that has seen heightened opposition to the Administration’s coastal drilling plan.  The North Carolina religious leaders are part of a larger 310-signer letter of religious leaders from across the U.S.

The letter from the North Carolina religious leaders includes the following: “We urge the Trump Administration to focus on investments in renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, as well as maximize our energy efficiency, instead of looking to expand fossil fuel exploration in God’s ocean. God entrusts us to be good stewards of God’s oceans and coasts. We should honor this sacred duty and position our country as a global leader in energy stewardship.”

The signers from North Carolina include: Read more


Editorial gets it right on GOP’s cynical elections power play

This morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on is on the money with its assessment of the latest moves by North Carolina Republicans with respect to the state Board of Elections. As the editorial (“Legislative efforts to give GOP upper hand only gain election confusion”) points out, the latest move by the GOP to rush through partisan alterations of the Board are painfully transparent and disingenuous:

“The continuing efforts by the Republican leadership to push a heavy thumb on the elections process — through significant changes in the way the state Board of Elections was composed — were rushed into law. There was no investigation as to the need for the changes or how they’d make the elections process work better for voters or candidates.  The only justifications were it would enshrine Republican Party domination of the election process and they had the votes to do it.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has rightly challenged the law. Even setting aside any legitimate questions as to the very need for the changes, there are significant questions as to whether the legislature acted within its authority and if the laws are constitutional. The state’s courts are the appropriate forum to address these very real issues.

The General Assembly, no matter what faction might control it, isn’t omnipotent nor infallible. Given the legislature’s less than stellar record in the court when challenged over the last few years, scrutiny is more than appropriate.

More to the point, the campaign season is underway. There is no fully functioning state board. Similarly, a quarter of the county elections boards are not able to fully function at a time when many important decisions need to be made – most basically the location of polling places and early voting hours.

Rather than working to fix a problem he helped create, state House Rules Committee Chairman, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, complained in a letter to the governor, that he should drop his lawsuit and ‘allow House Bill 90 to take effect and work with the General Assembly to address any of your remaining concerns.’

Here’s a worthy course of action for Lewis and his fellow legislative leaders, if they truly care about the efficient and fair conduct of elections in North Carolina.

Repeal their changes, convene a bipartisan study commission – with members equally drawn from the two dominant political parties, as well as from the courts and legal community, elections officials and executive branch of government – to examine key issues and come up with recommendations for changes. Give such a commission time to do its work and a mandate that all its proceedings be conducted in public.”

Let’s hope other observers keep demanding similar action. Unfortunately, based on years of past, hyper-partisan performance from the legislature’s conservative leadership, such action seems unlikely to occur absent a lot more passionate and determined activism and advocacy from the people of North Carolina.