Commentary, News

A lot of deniers will never be convinced, even when the water is lapping at their ankles, but for anyone interested in scientific facts, this article on the NC Coastal Review (“Climate Change Evidence All Around”) is worth a read this morning.

“Despite what you might hear, there’s strong evidence that climate change is having an impact on North Carolina: Look carefully at the fish.

That was one of the messages from Pete Peterson, a researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. He was among the scientists, TV weathermen and journalists on the boat Friday touring the marshes of the White Oak River. The boat trip was part of a workshop on climate change’s effects on coastal habitats organized by the N.C. Coastal Federation….

Peterson, whose work involves research and teaching grad students in paleoecology, invertebrate fisheries management, estuarine habitat evaluation and barrier island ecology, said that it’s fairly easy to see the effects on local waters and fish.

For example, he said, a thermometer hung for decades in the water off the bridge to Pivers Island – home of NOAA’s Beaufort Lab and the Duke Lab – clearly shows a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit rise in water temperatures in the past two decades.

At the same time, Peterson said, there’s been an equally clear shift in the composition of fish stocks in some locations. The NOAA lab, he said, has for decades sampled reef fish, and has found that over the past four decades, there’s been a marked decrease in the number of northern, temperate species, and a corresponding dramatic increase in the number of tropical species.”

In other words and in lay people’s terms, North Carolina is slowly but surely starting to look more like Florida. And anyone (i.e. the Koch-funded groups on the right) who denies this plain reality and helps stymie the efforts to address it is contributing to this potentially catastrophic problem.


Add the Fayetteville Observer to the list of media outlets to blast the recent decision of Governor McCrory and the General Assembly to do the bidding of their Koch Brothers-funded buddies in the far right advocacy groups by deep-sixing the state’s game-changing renewable energy tax credits. As the Observer rightfully points out in this editorial:

“The lights aren’t going out in this state’s fast-growing solar-energy industry, but they’re about to dim.

Until now, North Carolina has been a national leader in extracting electricity from the sun. In part, it’s because conditions here are ideal – abundant sunshine and thousands of acres of level, underused farmland available. But other states can easily make the same offer. What gave us an edge was the 35 percent tax credit the state offers solar developers, which investors can spread over five years.

Good conditions, land and the tax credit have brought dozens of solar farms to this region. Construction on the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains is about to begin in Gray’s Creek. Unfortunately, it may be the last such project for a while. It’s getting started just in time to earn the tax credit, which the General Assembly foolishly decided to end on Dec. 31.

While solar industry leaders remain optimistic about the future in North Carolina, they say new investments are likely to move to other states. And it’s not like North Carolina will save money because of it. Every dollar of the tax credit, the president of one solar company says, generates $1.54 in state and local revenue.

Much of that investment is going to the state’s poorest, rural counties, where the farmland is underused and available for the most modern of crops. Farmers are able to lease land to solar companies for rents as much as five times greater than they could get for agricultural use. The farms also bring construction jobs during their setup and a few maintenance jobs on a more permanent basis.

Fayetteville state Rep. John Szoka says he’s studied the solar industry and wanted to extend the tax credits. The state and federal tax codes, he said, already offer plenty of incentives to more conventional energy companies. Szoka is a Republican and as conservative as most of his peers in Raleigh’s ruling party. But he’s looked at the solar industry and seen a winner.

It is, without question, a big part of our energy future, already able to compete in many ways with conventional power sources. And it’s the one industry that state government can point to that’s brought new cash flow to the state’s rural communities.

It’s not corporate welfare when the tax investment is producing even greater returns for state and local taxpayers. It’s a smart investment in the next big energy industry. When our lawmakers return to work next spring, we hope they take a second look and reauthorize the tax credit program. It would be a smart move.”


Image: NC Department of Public Safety

Image: NC Department of Public Safety

The murky flood waters haven’t all receded yet in South Carolina (or parts of North Carolina for that matter), but it’s already crystal clear that our state’s shortsighted attitude toward climate change, rising sea levels and investments in infrastructure have been powerfully refuted once more.

The Associated Press reports:

“Long before the historic floods of the past week, crumbling roads, bridges and dams and aging drinking water systems plagued South Carolina — a poor state that didn’t spend much on them in the first place and has been loath to raise taxes for upkeep.

Now the state faces hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of additional bills to fix or replace key pieces of its devastated infrastructure.

As the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters shows, the federal government will cover much of the costs, but isn’t going to pay for all of it.”

In other words, much as we’d like to chalk disasters like the destructive floods of recent days up to “acts of God,” the plain and undeniable fact is that they are actually part of the new normal on our warmer, more populated and increasingly paved-over planet. Moreover, we avoid preparing for them and attempting to preemptively mitigate them at our own great peril and expense.

Tragically, however, this painfully obvious reality continues to escape our state’s political leaders and the “free market think tanks” on whom they rely for policy advice. Indeed, as was explained by the good people at the Sierra Club earlier this week, a so-called “regulatory reform” bill currently awaiting Gov. McCrory’s signature would directly contribute to more of the kind of flooding experienced in the Carolinas in recent days by further limiting protections of the kinds of intermittent streams that help absorb runoff and alleviate flooding.

The bottom line: North Carolina can pay a lot now or vastly more later to address the impacts of our changing planet and growing population. And for the time being, it’s clear that we’ve opted for the latter option.

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

A few of the worst last-minute proposals advanced during last night’s kangaroo sessions of the North Carolina House and Senate failed, mercifully, to win final approval prior to the 4:00 a.m. final adjournment. That said, lawmakers still shipped a bevy of dreadful and destructive bills down the street to the Governor’s Mansion.

One of the most troubling was/is the aptly nicknamed “Polluter Protection Act.” Though some of the bill’s rougher edges were smoothed slightly in the session’s final hours, the proposal still goes to Governor McCrory with its horrific centerpiece intact — a provision that would allow permit-holders who violate environmental limits to be excused from civil penalties for their offenses, if they “self-report” the violations.

Environmental advocates are demanding that the Governor veto this monstrosity. The good people at the Environmental Defense Fund put it this way in a statement this morning:

“The N.C. General Assembly has given final approval to House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. If the legislation becomes law, it will allow more air and water pollution, degrade land, harm wildlife and put public health at risk.

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.”

Meanwhile, Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters was even more succinct when he said the bill could be “the worst environmental bill of Gov. McCrory’s tenure.”

For a summary of the lowlights and the action that environmental advocates are taking to secure a veto click here.

For a thorough list of the bill’s grisly details click here.

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

The biggest scandal right now in the world of industry involves the giant German manufacturer Volkswagen, which has now admitted to installing software in its vehicles to provide false emission tests results. As the New York Times reports this morning, one of the factors that led to this scandal was the regulatory structure that allows car manufacturers to do their own emission tests or to select the companies with which they will contract to perform them.

In other words, with self-policing for environmental pollution you inevitably get…wait for it…cheating. The drive for profits often makes the temptation to cook the books is too great.

This brings us to one of the centerpieces of the so-called “regulatory reform” legislation (aka the “Polluter Protection Act”) that’s currently awaiting final action in the General Assembly as lawmakers move toward adjournment next week. As was explained earlier this week by the good people at the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, the proposed law would enact a regulatory framework that is even weaker than the one that gave rise to the VW scandal. This is from the League’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

“The big environmental fight surely looming over the remainder of this legislative year deals with HB 765, now better known as the Polluter Protection Act.

Why is that? In brief, imagine this: A corporate polluter – one of those occasional bad actors whose irresponsible behavior undercuts the efforts of the more ethical majority of businesses – has been carelessly dumping unpermitted pollution into your local river. It realizes that it is finally about to be caught, either by concerned citizens or one of the overworked remaining state environmental enforcement staff. It quickly runs a ‘self-audit’ and confesses to its regrettable “mistake” of dumping excess pollution into the river feeding the local water supply. Hey, presto! Said corporate polluter gets immunity and is let off the hook from fines and penalties on the basis of its promise to do better from now on.

This isn’t satire; that kind of provision is actually contained in the Polluter Protection Act.

In other words, under the proposed new model for North Carolina, a polluter could be as guilty as Volkswagen and then, upon being discovered, simply self-report its behavior as a “mistake” and avoid any liability.

Of course, for every polluter who finally realizes they’re about to get caught and self-reports, there will undoubtedly be many more who will go their merry way, degrading our environment without any consequences at all. Others, like VW, will get away with murder for many years and never even face the kind of consequences that awaits the giant car maker.

The bottom line: The self-policing provision of the “regulatory reform” bill makes a mockery of our environmental protection laws and citizens will be the ones who will pay the price.