Environment, Trump Administration

DEQ hosts more public listening sessions on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; new FERC members bode ill for opponents

Hundreds of people turned out in Rocky Mount to comment on the water quality and riparian buffer impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Another listening session is scheduled for next week in Rocky Mount, as well as in Jackson and Lumberton.(Photo: Lisa Sorg)

If you missed the recent public hearings on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, you have three more chances to speak your mind before state environmental officials.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is holding additional public listening sessions about the project, which will cross parts of eight eastern North Carolina counties, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

  • Tuesday, Aug. 15: Nash Community College, 522 N. Old Carriage Road., Rocky Mount
  • Wednesday, Aug. 16: Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center, 9536 NC. Hwy. 305, Jackson.
  • Thursday, Aug. 17: Southeastern Agricultural Center, 1027 US Hwy. 74, Lumberton.

Speaker registration and sign-in for all three listening sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. The listening sessions will begin at 6 p.m.

After two public hearings in July, DEQ is still accepting written comments on water quality and riparian buffer rules for the ACP through Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. Via snail mail, send them to 401 Permitting, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC. 27699-1617. Written comments may also be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov. Please be sure to include “ACP” in the email’s subject line.

The comments will be forwarded to FERC, which has final approval of the pipeline. Until earlier this month, FERC did not have a quorum under the Trump administration, meaning the commission could not issue decisions on any projects. But as of Aug. 3, the US Senate confirmed Trump nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to FERC, filling two of three vacancies. These appointments don’t bode well for pipeline opponents. Chatterjee previously served as energy policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In that position, Chatterjee helped push for Senate approval of the Keystone and was among congressional officials who opposed US participation in the Paris Agreement.

Powelson worked as a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. He  supports both fracking and natural gas pipelines. Before  a group of industry representatives, he compared opposition to what he views as a term for war. “The jihad has begun,” StateImpact Pennsylvania quoted Powelson as saying. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission groups actually show up at commissioners homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”

New to the pipeline discussion?

NCPW has reported on the potential damage to the environment and to underserved communities.

FERC released a draft environmental impact statement and a final version, both of which were incomplete — even at 1,000-plus pages — and omitted or downplayed many key issues.

News

NC paramedic recounts stories from front line of heroin epidemic

A weekend piece at Salon takes a look at North Carolina’s opioid epidemic through the eyes of a Guilford County paramedic.

The piece, by Salon’s Young American journalist Lauryn Higgins, is worth your time – particularly if you’ve been following our recent coverage of the issue at NC Policy Watch.

From the piece:

In 2015, “the number of deaths from heroin overdoses in the U.S. surpassed those from gun homicides,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicated that, “4.31% of people in the U.S. ages 12 or older have used prescription pain relievers for non-medical purpose in the last year.”

North Carolina ranks among the nation’s top ten in opioid related deaths

These numbers are a harrowing reminder that heroin abuse is growing at an alarming rate, and statistics show this is because the drug does not discriminate. Every socioeconomic class, gender and race is affected by this epidemic. Smith adds, “In some cases heroin is more accessible and even cheaper than alcohol. It gives, from what I understand, a more consistent high; you don’t develop a tolerance quite as quickly, and it’s easier to hide.” For many addicts, these characteristics allow users to live their lives as normally as possible, some even masking their addiction until it’s too late.

In the Northwest North Carolina region, the foster care system has seen an increase in children needing homes by more than 25% from 2011 to 2015, with Smith’s backyard of Guilford County seeing the highest number; 560 individual children having sought placement in the last year. It’s led officials to deem this a “state of crisis,” for the system, and identify the heroin epidemic as an underlying cause for the recent spike.


Read the whole piece here.

Commentary

Policy issues impacting NC seniors the subject of August 15 luncheon

Please join us August 15 for a very special Crucial Conversation –

The silver tsunami: What’s on the policy horizon for North Carolina’s seniors?

Click here to register

In one of the brighter and underreported developments of the 2017 legislative session, North Carolina lawmakers took some important steps to secure consistent, quality care for seniors. Among the important accomplishments:

  • Providing a long overdue increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate for homecare workers,
  • Paved the way for the appointment of a joint subcommittee on aging, and
  • Passed legislation to improve the regulation of adult care homes.

These efforts represented important steps in the right direction towards a future in which North Carolinians can age with dignity.

Needless to say, however, there’s a lot left to do. The projected growth of North Carolina’s senior population will have serious impacts on the state’s budget, workplace needs and economy well into the 21st Century.

Join us to celebrate the progress on senior issues during this year’s legislative session and to hear from the following aging, labor and economics experts about the policy choices and controversies that lie ahead:

Mary Bethel, President of the North Carolina Coalition on Aging

Bill Lamb, President of Friends of Residents in Long-Term Care (and former Associate Director of the Institute on Aging)

Charmaine Fuller-Cooper, Associate State Director of Advocacy for NC AARP

Ana Pardo, Campaign Coordinator for the NC Justice Center Workers’ Rights Project

Mary Bethel

Bill Lamb

Charmaine Fuller-Cooper

Ana Pardo

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about this important and timely subject and to become a part of the solution.

When: Tuesday, August 15 at 12 noon – Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

This week’s “must read” about North Carolina government

Image: NC Dept. of Public Safety

There are a lot of ways in which the conservative obsession with doing government “on the cheap” is limited in its effect on the citizenry. Potholes and crumbling roads, closed parks and rest stops, court delays and rising college tuition: these problems are real and often hugely problematic, but often manageable for those affected — at least in the near term.

And then there are matters that are “life and death” — matters in which inadequate public services and structures undermine the basic health and well-being of the population. Inadequate healthcare policies like North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act certainly headlines this list. This cruel decision has meant premature death for thousands of North Carolina in recent years. In some sense, however, it can at least be argued that these deaths — however tragic — are acts of omission. At least North Carolina didn’t affirmatively kill anyone.

And then there are the areas in which failed public structures are actual affirmative killers and deniers of fundamental human rights. As a special series running in Raleigh’s News & Observer  this week by reporters Dan Kane and David Raynor highlights, that particular horror is something that is happening with alarming frequency in North Carolina’s prisons and jails. Part One of the series commences by telling the tragic story of Emily Call — a young mother struggling with addiction who committed suicide while being improperly supervised in the Wilkes County jail:

“Emily Call was one of 51 inmates who died in North Carolina’s county jails in the past five years after being left unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow, a News & Observer investigation shows. Jailers failed to make timely checks, left in place sheets or towels that prevented them from seeing suicide attempts, or didn’t fix broken cameras or intercoms that helped them keep in touch with inmates.

The deaths of unsupervised inmates came in 38 different jails, in rural and urban areas. Twelve of the jails, including Durham, have been cited for violation of regulations in more than one death.”

The story goes on to shed additional light on the magnitude of the problem, the huge factor played by mental illness and the thus far inadequate response of state and local officials. The N&O even had to pay under protest for the records it obtained as a result of the McCrory administration’s stubborn and longstanding refusal to abide by open records laws — something the Cooper administration has remedied.

In the days ahead, there will be more disturbing stories about this horrific situation — both from the N&O and from the protection and advocacy group, Disability Rights North Carolina. All caring and thinking North Carolinians should pay close attention and demand swift action from state leaders.

agriculture

USDA cracks down on use of term “climate change,” prompting a chilling effect on agency scientists

(Creative Commons)

At 107.39 degrees, Death Valley set the record for the average hottest month — July 2017 — in US history. Parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest, where air conditioning is not de rigueur as in the South, are wilting under a relentless and unprecedented heat wave. The Arctic could be ice-free by 2030, and a gigantic portion of the Larsen Ice Shelf calved from Antarctica this summer, reshaping that continent’s shoreline.

But a division of the USDA is responding to these climatic changes by erasing the term altogether.

The Guardian reported today that the US Department of Agriculture is censoring the phrase “climate change” from its work, asking staff to use the words “weather extremes” instead. The sources of the information are internal emails that detail the policing of language used to describe the phenomenon and implications of a warming planet. The emails were sent within the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is under the USDA, and works with farmers on land conservation.

The meaning of other terms were also watered down or obscured altogether: “Reduce greenhouse gases” has been replaced with “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency,” the Guardian reported. And “sequester carbon” has become “build soil organic matter.”

Some division scientists were displeased. From the Guardian:

One employee stating on an email on 5 July that ‘we would prefer to keep the language as is” and stressing the need to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work.’

The USDA still hosts its climate change solutions page, and its Climate Change Program Office site is still live. (The NC Department of Agriculture also devotes many of its webpages to climate change.)

Using this terminology with farmers also downplays agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions. Fifteen percent of US emissions comes from farming. However, Sam Clovis, Trump’s nomination to be the USDA’s chief scientist, has labeled climate research “junk science,” the Guardian wrote, adding that “Last week it was revealed that Clovis, who is not a scientist, once ran a blog where he called progressives ‘race traders and race ‘traitors’ and likened Barack Obama to a “‘communist’.”