Commentary

Ouch! Editorials blast McCrory administration on LGBT discrimination, coal ash pollution, offshore drilling

McCrory_budget305-aNorth Carolina Governor Pat McCrory did not have a good weekend on the editorial pages of the state’s major newspapers.

The Winston-Salem Journal blasted the administration’s decision to make well water near coal ash cites “safe” by raising the permissible amount of coal ash chemicals in the water.

The Wilmington Star News praised the Obama administration’s decision to block offshore oil and gas drilling near the fragile Carolina coastline and decried McCrory’s (and Senator Thom Tillis’) failure to listen to coastal communities.

And, of course, these editorials come on top of several more in recent days that have rejected the Guv’s new LGBT discrimination law as utterly outrageous.

Raleigh’s News & Observer called it “an insult to all the people of North Carolina. ”

The Greensboro News & Record called it “a sad day for North Carolina and its cities.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times decried the law’s effort to demonize LGBT people.

And. the Guv’s hometown paper, the Charlotte Observer put it this way in likening him to the worst politician-bigots of the 20th Century:

“It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett. They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward.

This is what Pat McCrory did Wednesday. In just 12 hours. It wasn’t the stand in the schoolhouse door. It was a sprint past the bathroom door and straight into the South’s dark, bigoted past.”

And judging by the mostly mocking national reviews of the new discrimination law — the New Yorker published an article in which McCrory is described as swearing in a class of “bathroom cadets” to enforce the new law — it would appear that any hopes McCrory may have harbored for a national political future after his time in the mansion expires have been pretty definitively flushed down the drain.

Commentary, News

This week’s top five stories on NC Policy Watch

Merrick Garland1. Obama nominates Merrick Garland as next Supreme Court Justice
President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the open slot on the U.S. Supreme Court is 63-year-old Merrick Garland, currently Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The President made his announcement Wednesday morning from the Rose Garden, setting off a battle with Republicans in the U.S. Senate, most of whom have vowed to block any of Obama’s nominees, arguing that the selection to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia should be left to the next president.

Here’s Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Arizona who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee just this morning: [Continue reading…]

Bonus reads:

Burr, Tillis take to social media to dismiss Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee
The case for considering Supreme Court nominee Garland is overwhelming

Keep calm2. Staying calm and focused in a raucous election year
Keeping perspective, commitment to peaceful change the best path for progressives

In a 1947 speech in the British House of Commons, Winston Churchill famously and correctly observed that “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

Messy, disorganized and inefficient as it is, democratic government is one of the best things that humans have come up with in the 50,000 years or so since they started living together in civilized societies. Try as we might to come up with new systems or to recycle old ones, the merits of peaceful, participatory elections and governance keep rising to the top — especially when married to a robust set of civil and human rights. [Continue reading…]

School grades3. Panel of educators, activists pan N.C.’s system of grading schools

North Carolina’s controversial method of grading its schools—which includes dishing out “D” or “F” grades to designated “low-performing schools”—failed to find a single defender at a forum of educators, lobbyists and activists Monday night in Raleigh.

The meeting, led by the Public School Forum of N.C., a research and policy group in Raleigh, centered on identification of low-performing schools, a system that hinges heavily on test scores.

Most who spoke Monday said the formula should focus more on student growth in test scores, so as not to unfairly penalize schools with a challenging student body.

Currently, 80 percent of a school’s performance grade is determined by test scores. The remaining 20 percent keys upon students’ academic growth. [Continue reading…]

Erica L. #24. Equality advocates to lawmakers: Please don’t legislate in favor of hate and discrimination

A group of human and civil rights advocates gathered in front of the state Legislative Building this morning to plead with state lawmakers and Governor McCrory not to try and override the nondiscrimination ordinance adopted by the city of Charlotte.

As we have reported previously, conservative legislators are threatening to call a special session of the General Assembly prior to next month’s scheduled return in order to take precisely such action. The explanation for the action: the professed (and illusory) concern that the law’s guarantee of access to public restrooms for transgender people will somehow serve as an invitation for male sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms. [Continue reading…]

Water pollution5. McCrory administration’s reversal on drinking water safety near coal ash sites raises questions, concerns

Residents are right to be skeptical of the state’s sudden claims that their water has been safe all along
North Carolina officials owe residents and local officials in Lee County an apology, and they owe every North Carolinian an explanation.
Over the past month, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have walked back their own recommendation that families in Lee County not drink or cook using water from wells with carcinogens that exceed their own standards.

The water is now safe, they say, and it always has been.

Last November, private wells within a half-mile of open-pit clay mines in the county were tested to collect baseline data. Duke Energy plans to move more than 7 million tons of coal ash from sites in Lumberton and Goldsboro and dispose of it in the abandoned Lee County clay mines. [Continue reading…]

Commentary

Rep. Pricey Harrison: Coal ash is poisoning our democracy as well as our people

Pricey HarrisonIn case you missed it, North Carolina State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has a great new essay up on the Huffington Post about the connections between North Carolina’s frightening coal ash mess and the state’s polluted, pay-to-play political culture.

This from “The Coal Ash Money Train — North Carolina’s Poisoned Democracy”:

“Normally, citizens could seek a remedy in the courts when state governments do not adequately regulate coal ash. Yet in North Carolina, that’s become increasingly difficult given the pay-to-play system that has replaced the innovative public financing program for judicial candidates – a program that Governor Pat McCrory eliminated in his first few months in office. Without public financing, judicial candidates must turn to deep-pocketed donors for the money needed to mount a successful campaign. Those private donors in turn may see favorable decisions in court.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Governor McCrory–a Duke executive for 28 years–has conveniently failed to enforce environmental regulations and is under federal investigation for doing so. Corporate polluters have spent big to elect legislators in North Carolina. We can expect that, when it comes to coal ash, Gov. McCrory will yield to his corporate ties and neglect to defend the health of North Carolinians, especially the poorest among us.

The Charlotte Observer recently editorialized on the state’s distorted regulatory focus, writing that the disaster in Flint is “a cautionary tale for public officials and the citizens they serve” and that it should “resonate in states like North Carolina, where the regulatory focus has too often shifted away from protecting residents to accommodating business and industry.” The state agencies that are supposed to protect our water have too often focused on satisfying industry.

It’s clear that when corporate dollars pervade the government systems built to protect the public, we can no longer count on government to do its job and look after its most vulnerable communities.”

Click here to read the entire post.

Commentary

YCMTSU: State “solves” drinking water problem around coal ash sites by weakening the rules

From the good folks at ACTAgainstCoalAsh.org

Residents Across North Carolina Outraged by State’s Decision to Rescind Do-Not-Drink Orders:
ACT Against Coal Ash Demands Solutions for Contaminated Wells at DEQ Public Hearings

Across North Carolina, Duke Energy’s neighbors, many of whom have been living on bottled water for over 10 months, as well as Lee County residents are outraged by the state’s decision to rescind 235 do not drink orders. The flip-flop from state regulators came just two days before another round of DEQ’s public hearings on coal ash basin closure, adding to residents’ mistrust of Governor McCrory and the staff he appointed to run DEQ and DHHS.

Tonight, the Down East Coal Ash Coalition plans to make a big showing at DEQ’s public hearing for Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant in Goldsboro, N.C. Local resident, Johnnie Gurley is skeptical that DEQ will prioritize the public’s interest over Duke Energy’s profits. “First, a fine of $25 million for violations of the law at one site reduced to $7 million for all of them,” explains Gurley, “Then, just as we found out about a secret dinner between the Governor, DEQ leadership and Duke Energy Executives, coal ash sites that were classified as ‘’high priority” are now “low”, or “low-intermediate”. Now, suddenly, water we were told not to drink because it was contaminated is safe to drink. Either God worked a miracle or Governor McCrory is in Duke Energy’s pocket.” Read more

Commentary, News

The coal ash mess: Three “must reads” plus a powerful video

Coal ash clean upSeveral important items of note in the coal ash world this morning:

#1 – The Wilmington Star News reports that Duke Energy has begun moving with what one might describe as “all deliberate speed” (emphasis on deliberate) to remove more than seven million tons of coal ash from just one of its numerous dumps across the state — this one in New Hanover County. In the four-plus months since the removal commenced, 82,000 tons have been moved or roughly 1% of all that needs to come out. It is a testament to the massive nature of the problem and the absurd inaction by Duke and state regulators that things are this bad.

#2 -The Fayetteville Observer reports that the city of Sanford is treating coal ash liquid (“leachate”) in its wastewater treatment plant and then discharging it (along, potentially, with nasty heavy metals) into the Deep River — something that, understandably, worries some environmental advocates.

#3 – Meanwhile, Gov. Pat “Standing in the bathroom door” McCrory continues to mostly ignore the problem. This new and powerful video from the good folks at Progress NC features a woman who lives near a coal ash dump and must now live on bottled water — apparently in perpetuity.  Not surprisingly, the Guv hasn’t responded to her requests for a meeting.

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#4 – Finally, the League of Conservation Voters reports that NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tonight at simultaneous events in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington. This is from the LCV’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.