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Though polluters and their apologists on the Right love to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a bastion of leftists running roughshod over innocent businesses, the truth is quite frequently the opposite. Indeed, the agency is often guilty of bending over backwards to dismiss the complaints of pollution victims. This is particularly true for poor people of color who, as has been demonstrated time and again, are typically the first to suffer when pollution invades places of human habitation.

A 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity (“Environmental racism persists, and the EPA is one reason why: The EPA office tasked with policing alleged civil rights abuses is chronically unresponsive to complaints and has never made a formal finding of discrimination”) made the following remarkable findings:

  • Ninety-five percent of the time, communities of color living in the shadows of polluters find their claims of civil-rights violations denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has reviewed nearly 300 complaints filed by minority communities. It has never once made a formal finding of a civil-rights violation.
  • While touting the importance of tackling environmental racism, the EPA has closed only 12 cases alleging such discrimination with official action on behalf of minority communities. EPA officials have negotiated settlements in nine cases; the rest were resolved among the complainants and targeted agencies.
  • At least 17 communities are still waiting in limbo — more than half for over a decade — as the EPA reviews their civil rights claims. The delays have left residents, many forced to endure unsafe pollution levels, without recourse.
  • The EPA’s civil rights office takes, on average, 350 days to decide whether to investigate a case. In nine cases, the agency took so long — an average of 367 days — that investigators had to dismiss the allegations as “moot.”

In the aftermath of the report and numerous complaints about the EPA’s performance in this vital area, the agency has proposed some new rules to revise its procedures that it claims are designed to make things better. Unfortunately, advocates representing victims are not so sure.

This Friday, the topic will be aired in public as the EPA Office of Civil Rights holds a public hearing in Research Triangle Park — one of five sites around the nation to do so. Advocates for victims of pollution and environmental racism are calling on citizens and advocates to attend the event and speak out. This is from news release issued by the UNC Center for Civil Rights earlier today: Read More

Commentary

Be sure to check out this morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the latest controversy swirling around Gov. Pat McCrory and his former long-time employer, Duke Energy. The headline and subtitles do a good job of summarizing the content:

“Gov. McCrory numb to the appearance of hosting Duke Energy
-Is Gov. Pat McCrory just oblivious?
-Meeting with Duke officials
-Appearances do matter”

As WRAL reported earlier this week, McCrory held a private, closed door meeting with his former employer at the very moment that his administration was engaged in important law enforcement activities targeting the the energy giant. The N&O editorial rightfully blasts McCrory for not recognizing the obvious conflicts inherent in such a meeting:

“The meeting demonstrates an amazing lack of awareness, as at the time Duke was in the middle of dealing with some of the fallout from a coal ash spill in the Dan River. The company’s saga with the spill included an agreement to pay a federal fine of $102 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and then a state environmental official wanted to impose a $50 million fine, according to records. The state ended up levying a $25 million fine for groundwater contamination, reduced in September to $7 million.

At dinner in the mansion were Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, other top Duke officials and the governor’s legal counsel, among others. McCrory worked for Duke for 29 years.

The governor should understand that meetings such as this one just look bad, coming as a company with which the governor had a long-term connection (providing him a handsome livelihood) is in the midst of controversy with different levels of government. If the governor isn’t astute about such appearances, those around him should be.”

The problem (as McCrory has made clear repeatedly over the last three years) is that he does not appear to “get” basic concepts like the difference between being Governor of a state and Mayor of a city. As the editorial puts it: “Sometimes, Gov. Pat McCrory seems to think he’s still the mayor of Charlotte….”

For better or worse, however, McCrory is the Governor and desperately needs to learn how to behave like one — ideally before his term is up.

Commentary

dukelogoMcCrory_budget305-aIn case you missed it, reporter Mark Binker at WRAL.com has an important new story in the ongoing saga of Duke Energy, its troubling environmental record and the relationship it maintains with its former employee, Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has made much of its efforts over the past year to “hold Duke Energy accountable” for the company’s handling of coal ash pollution.

But on June 1, while in the midst of pressing legal action against and issuing news releases critical of the nation’s largest utility, top state officials met for a private dinner at the Executive Mansion with Duke executives, according to calendar entries and other records reviewed by WRAL News.

McCrory, his top environmental regulator, his chief of staff and his general counsel attended, as did Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good, the company’s general counsel and the president of the company’s North Carolina operations.

Beyond general statements that environmental policy and job creation were topics of the meeting, neither state officials nor a spokeswoman for Duke have been willing to provide details of the discussion. The conversation came close on the heels of the state fining the company for pollution violations, during legal wrangling over coal ash pollution and while pending legislation on renewable energy and the state’s response to federal clean power rules was debated at the General Assembly.”

The detailed story goes on to explain why this meeting was extremely unusual, how it took place at a critical juncture in the aftermath of the giant 2014 coal ash spill and while state enforcement actions were pending, that no environmental groups ever are granted such access and how neither Duke nor the McCrory administration is willing to disclose what was discussed.

All in all, it’s a very disturbing development and the kind of story that appears to confirm a lot of our worst fears about the current administration. Stay tuned, it’s certain not be the end of the matter. Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary

FrackingDon’t ya’ just love it when even the market forces so cherished by the ideologues on the right tell them that their head-in-the-sand environmental denials are all wet? As we reported last week, ExxonMobil is now calling for strong government action to address the climate change crisis even as members of the Flat Earth Society in places like the Art Pope Empire deny that global warming is occurring or, if they concede it is, that it has anything to do with carbon emissions.

Now, comes word of a similar story with respect to the hyper-controversial oil and gas retrieval technique known as fracking. This is from a recent story in the Triangle Business Journal:

“Fracking can significantly decrease home values, especially in areas that use well water, according to a new study from Duke University.

The study, which was done in Pennsylvania, found that home values decreased by an average of more than $30,000 for homes on well water within about a mile of shale drilling.’

…Our results show clearly that housing markets are responding to homeowners’ concerns about groundwater contamination from shale gas development,’ said Christopher Timmins, a Duke economics professor who specializes in environmental economics, and lead author in the study. ‘We may not know for many years whether these concerns are valid or not. However, they are creating a real cost to property owners today.’”

Ya’ got that fracking fans? Not only are the experts who devote their lives to preserving the planet anti-fracking, so is the genius of the free market. Who would have guessed that people don’t want live where their drinking water will be poisoned with toxic chemicals?

The bottom (and hopeful) line: As with so many disastrous environmental practices, polluter-funded denials can only work so long. It’s too bad that it comes to this, but at some point, the facts on (and, in this case, under) the ground become so obvious that even capital starts to say “no way.” Americans are starting to vote with their feet when it comes to fracking. Let’s hope this powerful trend helps keep this destructive phenomenon out of North Carolina permanently.

[This post has been updated.]

Commentary

You don’t have to have read the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer to know that North Carolina’s conservative political leaders have charted a disastrous course on climate change and fossil fuel emission in recent years. Heck, one need only watch TV commercials being run by various oil companies in which even they — the chief polluters themselves — admit the need to take action.

That said, the editorial makes several excellent points that should be taken to heart. Here, with the recent and promising climate talks in Paris as the backdrop, is the central thrust:

“In that regard, it matters how seriously North Carolina’s state and local governments take the issue and what actions that concern produces. Generally, North Carolina is more part of the solution than the problem of global warming. The state has been a leader in encouraging renewable energy, especially solar energy, and some of its cities and towns have promoted the use of renewable energy in homes and required it in public buildings.

But that positive record is being clouded by the rise of climate-change skeptics in the General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. Not only has state government lost a sense of urgency or even obligation about addressing global warming, it also has begun rolling back earlier efforts and thwarting current ones.

Last session, the General Assembly allowed a renewable energy tax cut to expire, undermining the state’s booming solar power industry. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are continuing to seek an end to mandates requiring utilities to produce a rising percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The legislature has backed fracking in North Carolina despite its tendency to leak methane from drill sites. The McCrory administration opposes the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from power plants. And the governor is leading a regional push to allow off-shore drilling….

Fortunately, an oil and natural gas glut has slowed North Carolina’s movement into fracking and may make off-shore drilling not worth the effort. And the gains of earlier years are still having an effect in growing solar and wind power. But in a race against global warming in which time is essential and governments at all levels must contribute, North Carolina’s state government has chosen to run backward.”

Let’s hope fervently, that in 2016, our state gets back in the business of saving the planet, rather than laying waste to it. Click here to read the entire editorial.