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Offshore oil platformEnvironmental organizations are doubling down on efforts to get concerned citizens to comment on the federal government’s proposed plan to open the coast of North Carolina to offshore oil and gas drilling. The deadline for comments in this phase of the process is this coming Monday March 30.

To comment, click here to visit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website and click on the “Comment Now!” button.

To learn more, check out the websites of the groups the N.C. Coastal Federation, Environment North Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the NC Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, and Stop Offshore Drilling of the Atlantic (SODA).

For an opposing, pro-drilling point of view, check out this recent op-ed by the Executive Director of the NC Petroleum Council.

Meanwhile, for a comprehensive overview of the subject and what will happen next, be sure to RSVP for the upcoming April 7, NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon, “Can this coastline be saved?” Click here for more information.

Commentary

Offshore oil platformThe debate over fracking in North Carolina and the threat it poses to the long-term well-being of humans and the environment in certain parts of the state is obviously hugely important. But there’s a strong argument to be made that the threat from offshore oil and gas drilling is significantly larger and more worrisome.

Not only would offshore drilling and the potential for oil spills put thousands of miles of coastline, our wonderful beaches and estuaries and the fragile marine ecology of of our Outer Continental Shelf at perpetual risk, it would pose enormous threats to the overall way of life of the state’s coastal communities. Put simply: Do we really want to turn the North Carolina coast into Louisiana?

If you share some or all of these concerns, there are two things to do:

#1 – Consider submitting comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management by Next Monday March 30. The good folks at the N.C. Coastal Federation have an “how to” here and here.

#2 – Attend the upcoming Crucial Conversation luncheon with expert Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Here are the details:

When: Tuesday, April 7, at 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: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

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

Commentary

frackOn the day it has become legal under state law to apply for a fracking permit in North Carolina, advocates at Environment North Carolina joined with a group of state lawmakers at the Legislative Building this afternoon to make clear that the controversial drilling procedure will not commence in the Tar Heel state without a fight.

Armed with a damning new report on the myriad problems to which fracking has given rise in Pennsylvania (“Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S.”) and forecasting litigation if any permits are approved by the state Mining and Energy Commission, the advocates and legislators addressed a gaggle of cameras and reporters at a press conference and made clear that the battle over fracking in North Carolina is far from over.

According to Environment North Carolina spokesperson Liz Kazal, “North Carolinians are no longer guaranteed safety” from an industry in which “every company is a bad actor.” Pointing to the disastrous results in Pennsylvania — where, she said, there have been at least 243 examples of drinking water contamination as the result of fracking and where the top 20 polluters have racked up more than one significant regulatory violation per day for years — Kazal argued that the only responsible course for North Carolina lawmakers is to reinstate the moratorium on fracking until, at a minimum, much tougher rules can be enacted.

In echoing Kazal’s call for a reinstatement of a moratorium, Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County observed that North Carolina is, without any kind of history in the oil and gas drilling field, essentially making up the rules in this area “from whole cloth” and breaking previous promises made by fracking advocates in the General Assembly that the state would have the strongest environmental protection rules in the country. She added that lawsuits challenging any approved permits under other state environmental protection laws are a virtual certainty should the Mining and Energy Commission approve any permits. She went on to note that given the current economics of the industry, the only fracking businesses likely to even try the controversial process here would be so-called “wildcatters” — i.e. small, independent outfits with less experience than major energy companies and the very kind of actors most likely to have accidents and cause pollution. Read More

Commentary

The Fayetteville Observer gets it right this morning with this editorial on the future of fracking in North Carolina — which becomes legal in the state today. After noting how the plummeting price of natural gas has slowed the fracking boom and may keep drillers away from North Carolina, the editorial puts it this way:

“But despite the less-than-rosy outlook, lawmakers remain eager to ensure that no obstacles hinder drillers. They hurried last week to pass legislation that forbids state regulators from imposing air-emission rules on fracking that are more stringent than federal standards – which are meant as minimums. So much for legislative vows that we’d have the most stringent fracking regulations in the country. We won’t.

As with so many environmental regulatory issues, government leaders see the primary customer as business and industry, whose interests appear to rank ahead of the health and safety of the people of North Carolina.

At the 2015 Sandhills Clean Energy Summit on Saturday, Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, blasted the priorities of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources: ‘DENR, unfortunately, has become not the guardian of sustainability, but the second-best, most-genuflecting Department of Commerce in North Carolina.’

If North Carolina has an abundant gas resource, companies will want to mine it and will work with our regulations – which really should be strong. We don’t need to put out an “I’m easy” sign.

In matters like this, protecting the people is government’s top job. But our leaders aren’t even pretending.”

Meanwhile, advocates at Environment NC will hold a press briefing today at the General Assembly along with several legislators from areas likely to be fracked to release a new report that may well foreshadow what’s ahead in North Carolina. The report details the numerous environmental violations by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania – a place in which many rural communities have experienced a sharp decline in quality of life as a result of the industry’s proliferation. Stay tuned.

Commentary

Climate change - droughtIt’s become a bizarre article of faith on the modern American Right that climate change and the science demonstrating the human role in bringing it about are all part of some diabolical plot by liberal academics and activists bent on limiting “freedom” and obtaining more funding. Things have gotten so bad that it’s practically forbidden for conservative politicians to even sound like they care about the environment.

In the bill the North Carolina House passed yesterday to repeal the requirement that the state adopt air quality standards for fracking operations, lawmakers even went to the trouble of changing the name of the state “Ecosystem Enhancement Program” (too warm and fuzzy apparently) to the bland and corporate “Division of Mitigation Services.”

Fortunately, it appears that it may still be okay to do a few things to help the environment (and even address the effects of  climate change) so long as you don’t really admit that that’s what you’re doing. Hence, the introduction this week by conservative state senators of legislation called the “Birds and Bees Act.”

As Raleigh’s News & Observer makes clear in this story this morning, the intent of the bill is laudable — to help more bees (a key element of our global food system) survive. Moreover, it’s well-established that one of the chief causes of bee depopulation is climate change.

Just don’t look for any admission of this critical linkage in the law or the explanations that will be forthcoming from lawmakers. Instead, bet your bottom dollar that the “Birds and Bees Act” bill will get explained with chuckles and sold as program to help farmers. All of which is fine and true — it would just be nice to hear conservative politicians admit why such action has become necessary.