Environment

DEQ nixes yet another part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has rejected the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s erosion and sediment control plan, dealing yet another setback to the $5.5 billion project.

In a letter dated Sept. 26, the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources told the ACP owners it had disapproved the plan, primarily because there was so much missing information.

The ACP is co-owned by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Southeast Energy Company and Piedmont Natural Gas.

The utilities have until Oct. 11 to submit a revised plan for consideration. If they want to contest DEQ’s disapproval, they must request an administrative hearing by Nov. 25.

ACP’s plan, according to the letter, failed to provide detailed construction sequence and erosion control methods, plus measures required to protect all public and private property from construction damage. DEQ lists the shortcomings of the plan in 17 separate points over three pages.

A specific concern for DEQ is the potential damage pipeline construction would have on the Neuse River. The plan, which originally called for open trenching, has been changed to a method known as a cofferdam. A cofferdam is an enclosure placed in a river, for example, that allows the water to be pumped out. However, the Neuse River is a habitat for many threatened or at-risk species, including the Neuse River waterdog, and draining the water could kill them.

The utilities have claimed that they would try to collect any key species and relocate them — where, though, they didn’t say. But in the process of collecting and moving the species from their habitat, they acknowledged that some of them could be inadvertently killed.

In September, DEQ delayed by three months its decision on whether to grant a 401 water quality and buffer permit to the owners of the ACP. In a letter to the utilities, state environmental officials laid out in two pages myriad missing information, some of it very basic: construction drawings, erosion control plans, a calculation of cumulative impacts and stream restoration plans.

 

ACP_E&SC Plan RRO Disapproval Ltr 092617 by LisaSorg on Scribd

Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Will partisan gerrymandering survive? Our report from yesterday’s argument at the U.S. Supreme Court

The majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court made clear Tuesday that partisan gerrymandering is distasteful and does a disservice to voters, but it remains unclear if they will intervene.

“Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “How does that help our system of government?” [Continue reading…]

2. New developments in the conservative move to reshape UNC

At a Wednesday meeting of a UNC Board of Governors task force, there was a long discussion of how to make meetings of the full board more efficient, more productive, with more “deliverables.”  In short, as several members said repeatedly, the objective is to make it run more like a successful business.

Running the meeting was task force Chairman Tom Fetzer, the former N.C. Republican Party Chairman who was appointed to the board in March.  [Continue reading…]

3. The outsourcing of sacrifice: In 21st Century America, selflessness is mostly reserved for the hired help

This past weekend, a local college football game was billed as “Military Appreciation Day.” Throughout the game, retired, current and future members of the nation’s armed forces were ushered out onto the field during breaks in the play to enjoy a few moments in the spotlight and to soak in the applause of the thousands gathered. Time and again, the stadium crowd was exhorted to rise and express its collective thanks to the various servicemen and women for their sacrifice and dedicated efforts on behalf of the nation.  [Continue reading…]

4. Drinking water safety at stake in the latest absurd special session

Here we go again. Another special session of the General Assembly begins Wednesday at noon and no one other than a handful of legislative leaders is exactly sure what lawmakers will be discussing.

That’s the way the legislature operates these days, mostly in secret while the media and the voters and even rank-and-file lawmakers wait around to be told what will happen.

House Speaker Tim Moore did email Republican members of the House last week with a tentative list of legislation that may come up. Democrats and the public received no notice.  [Continue reading…]

5. Durham fires back at state over school takeover plan

Two weeks, says Bryan Proffitt. That’s about how long he says Durham parents, educators and community leaders have to convince the head of North Carolina’s contentious charter takeover district that a takeover in Durham isn’t worth the fight.

“Can we beat one guy?” says Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, an advocacy group for local teachers. “Yes, we can beat one guy.”

Clearly, the group’s efforts have already begun in earnest. The roughly 200 protesters, parents and neighborhood residents who turned out for a fired up community meeting at Durham’s Lakewood Elementary on Tuesday say they’ve racked up about 900 signatures on a petition for state leaders to keep the Innovative School District (ISD) out of the city’s schools. [Continue reading…]

***And be sure to RSVP for our next NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Hurricane Matthew one year later: What happened, what hasn’t and how can we do better in the future? Featuring national disaster recovery expert Allison Plyler

When: Thursday October 19, at noon

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St.

Click here for more information

 

 

Courts & the Law, News

BREAKING: State constitutional provision appears to conflict with legislation targeting AG

It appears when North Carolina Republicans passed a technical corrections bill restricting Attorney General Josh Stein’s powers, they may have forgotten about a provision of the state constitution that delegates to him those very powers.

Senate Bill 582, among many other things, dictates that Stein’s office handle all criminal appeals without any power to delegate that work to district attorneys or other entities.

The exact language: “The Attorney General shall not delegate to the district attorney, or any other entity, the duty to represent the State in criminal and juvenile appeals.”

Article IV, Section 18 of the North Carolina Constitution, however, directly contradicts that statute with very clear language.

“The District Attorney shall advise the officers of justice in his district, be responsible for the prosecution on behalf of the State of all criminal actions in the Superior Courts of his district, perform such duties related to appeals therefrom as the Attorney General may require, and perform such other duties as the General Assembly may prescribe.”

Two people who are considered to be state constitutional experts said Friday they were unaware of the provision until it was pointed out, but that on its face, it very clearly delegates power to Stein with regard to how appeals are handled.

“It looks to me pretty straightforward,” said Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the state legislature. “He has a power directly granted to him under the Constitution.

Michael Crowell, an attorney in Chapel Hill, said there has always been litigation over whether the General Assembly has the power to change the Attorney General’s duties, but the provision in Article IV, Sec. 18 makes this situation different because it is a power directly delegated by the Constitution.

“It doesn’t seem that there’s any way around that,” Crowell said. “I mean, how do you argue it doesn’t mean what it says it means?”

The General Assembly slashed Stein’s Department of Justice budget by $10 million without any public notice that it was coming. In acquiescing to the budget cut, Stein eliminated 45 DOJ positions and shifted some criminal appeals to district attorneys offices across the state. He still has $3 million to cut.

SB582 was legislative leaders’ response to Stein’s delegation of work to comply with their budget cut. Republicans on the House floor Thursday said they received complaints from some district attorneys about the shift and said that Stein should be able to handle its workload with the resources it has.

According to the legislation they created, district attorneys could step in to handle criminal appeals if they want to but Stein could not delegate the work to them on his own.

House Democrats, who also were not aware of the constitutional provision until Friday, argued that Stein already has had to cut too many resources and that SB582 was drafted and passed out of meanness and spite.

The bill passed both chambers, with a couple Republicans voting against it. It is awaiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature. Cooper’s Office said he is currently reviewing the legislation.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson agreed that the constitutional provision seemed very clear.

“Having read that, I think that’s a pretty strong argument that what we’ve done is essentially unconstitutional,” he said.

Jackson, who voted against SB582, said he thinks the General Assembly should restore the $10 million budget cut to Stein’s office. He added that he’s hopeful since lawmakers have to stick around for 10 more days (the special session is not technically scheduled to end until the 17th), they will be able to fix what they’ve done, and maybe also work on addressing class size issues.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said Friday he saw the provision delegating Stein’s power the day before but the attitude of some of his colleagues is that they don’t care about the constitution.

“Maybe it made them feel better, but it is unenforceable,” he added of SB582. “This is as clear and straightforward as you can get.”

The Attorney General’s office and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore’s offices were not immediately available to comment.

This is a developing story and will be updated as responses are made. 

News

LGBTQ groups respond to first moves in transgender military ban lawsuit

Payton McGarry prepared for a military career but has seen that dream repeatedly frustrated.

This week the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss Doe v. Trump, the first of four lawsuits that attempt to stop transgender people from being banned from the U.S. Military.

In the motion, department claims that no transgender people have yet suffered under the new policy that prohibits their service

As Policy Watch has reported previously, however, there are plenty of North Carolinians whose lives stand as proof against that notion — including Greensboro’s Payton McGarry, who is unable to enlist under the ban.

North Carolina is third in the nation for the number of active military personnel, behind only the much larger states of Texas and California.

The National Center for Lesbian Right and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) had a scathing response to the government’s motion this week, saying transgender people now serving in the military have been “demeaned and stigmatized, denied health care, and are facing the loss of their professions, livelihoods, health care, and the post-military retirement they have worked hard to earn.”

From the groups’ statement:

“The government’s response reads like pure fiction,” said Jennifer Levi, Director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project.  “It states a fantasy that the President’s announcement of a ban on military service for transgender people has changed nothing.  That’s simply not true.  Every day this reckless ban stays in place, our military strength is diminished and our country is less safe for it.  We are optimistic the Court will see through this smokescreen and halt the ban.”

“The President’s attack on transgender service members who have dedicated their lives to serving our country is unconscionable. Rather than even attempting to defend it, the DOJ is asking the court to turn a blind eye to the devastation the President has caused in the lives of real people and real families,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director. “Because of the President’s ban, smart, dedicated, and idealistic young people like our plaintiffs Regan Kibby and Dylan Kohere are barred from fulfilling their dreams of military service.  And transgender people who are already serving have been told that their skills, training, and years of dedicated service are not valued. The ban has left them scrambling to make new plans for their futures, just as it has undermined our nation’s security. This is the exact opposite of how military policy should be made.”

Former and current military leaders strongly oppose the ban. Just last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, Jr. said that anyone who meets the high standards of the military should be able to serve. Six former military leaders have lent their voices in Doe v. Trump and other legal cases against the ban, including former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the only person to hold senior leadership roles in each of the three military departments and who led the Army during the year-long review of the military’s policy toward transgender service members, and retired Admiral and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen. Some of the nation’s most senior military leaders have expressed their strong concern about the negative effects of Trump’s ban on military readiness, national security, and morale.

In the coming months, as this controversy continues to unfold, Policy Watch will continue covering the issue and will be presenting stories wherein transgender service members in North Carolina tell stories of what the ban means for them and their service.

News

House Speaker Tim Moore and UNC President Margaret Spellings on DACA students

One of the more interesting moments in Wednesday evening’s Higher Education Works Foundation forum in Charlotte was a question from a student leader in the audience about providing in-state tuition for students who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore taking questions at the Higher Education Works Foundation forum Wednesday night.

Last month President Donald Trump announced an end to the program, which allows children brought to the United States without documentation to remain and work in the country. Some of the more than 800,000 children brought to the U.S. this way will be eligible for deportation beginning in March.

In a September press conference, Trump characterized DACA as an unfair system that victimizes millions of Americans and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”

The president has urged Congress for a legislative solution but with Republicans split between new legislation that accomplished much of what DACA did and hard line conservatives deriding that as “amnesty,” a way forward is anything but clear.

Asked for their views on DACA and the making it easier for DACA-qualified students to attend North Carolina universities, UNC System President Margaret Spellings and N.C. House Leader Moore – both Republicans – seemed to come down on the side of DACA protections.

Spellings said she has been outspoken on the issue since her time as Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration.

“I come from a state where in-state tuition is provided to so-called ‘Dreamers,” Spellings said. “And so I’m part of a coalition that is urging the congress as Paul Ryan and others are doing to find ways to take action within this six month period so that we can settle this uncertainty and really chart a way forward.”

“In my heart I just I have a real belief in DACA students,” Spellings said. “I’ve met many of them. And after we’ve invested in them in our K-12 system, many of them high flyers pursuing higher education, I think it’s very smart of us to continue to invest in higher education.”

Moore was more circumspect, but ended his answer with a word of support for the student DACA activist asking the question.

“What I  would say from the legislative standpoint in state government we’re really susceptible to what the feds do on this,” Moore said. “And frankly I wish the federal government would fix this one way or another. It’s very frustrating for us as state policy makers cause we have to comply with what federal laws are.”

“Certainly my heart is with you,” Moore told the student.