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This is from a statement released yesterday by the good people at the Environmental Defense Fund:

“The NC House is poised to approve S 786, the fracking bill, despite previous assurances to citizens to protect air and water quality and delay voting to issue permits until safety regulations are in place. It is premature for legislators to lift the prohibition on issuing permits for oil and gas drilling. Lawmakers should stick to the original plan: delay any vote on hydraulic fracturing until after the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) approves regulations that reflect community concerns about health and safety.

Lawmakers break their pledges. Read More

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An American hero has died.

It’s not often I’ll post here about someone not based in North Carolina. But Billy Frank Jr. was a titan of a man whose life deserves wide celebration and remembrance. If you knew Billy, then you know why. If you weren’t aware of his life and work, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain.

Where I come from out West, the treaties Indian tribes signed with the United States government were largely made in peace. In exchange for all of the land that now makes up western Washington, 2.2 million acres, tribes like Billy’s Nisqually tribe signed agreements with Gov. Isaac Stevens to preserve their way of life.

It was a pretty sweet deal for the settlers: they got rich, fertile land upon which they could prosper. All the tribes really wanted: to keep fishing and hunting, feeding their families and preserving a culture that had been around since time immemorial. By signing these treaties, the tribes were codifying those rights into law: Article 6, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties are the “supreme law of the land,” on a par with the constitution itself.

But soon, those rights were violated by settlers who wanted to take all the fish and game for themselves, and by state governments who were less than interested in honoring treaty commitments.

What the Pacific Northwest needed was a leader with the passion, charisma and guts to stand up for what was right. Luckily, it had Billy.

The Martin Luther King of Northwest coast native rights was arrested more than 50 times during the so-called “fish wars” of the 60s and 70s for acts of civil disobedience. He was beaten, shot at, slandered and spit on, but he never let it embitter him.

Billy was larger than life, too. A gregarious, friendly man with the firm handshake of a lifelong fisherman, you always knew he was in the room and were always glad of it. It says something that, though he was in his 80s, his passing has stunned many of us. Billy Frank Sr. lived to be 104. I assumed we’d have Billy around for another decade or two, at least. Even his political opponents largely loved Billy, and those that didn’t had to respect him.

Billy was one of the reasons I went to work for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, an organization he chaired for more than 30 years. Besides his passion for treaty rights, Billy understood as few do that healthy fish runs require paying close attention to ecological preservation.

Without habitat, fish and elk have no way to sustain themselves — and neither do we. Billy was a leader with vision who always saw the big picture. He saw the connections between social justice for communities of color and environmental protection. He was passionate about building a better future for native youth — and for everyone.

Up until his last days, Billy was working to make sure that his kids, and yours, and theirs, and theirs — and however many “theirs” you want to attach on the end — would have a healthy planet that would support wild salmon. He was working to protect the sacred commitments that in turn protect the communities he loved.

If you care about the U.S. Constitution, you should care about Billy Frank. If you’re concerned with honoring oaths and the dignity of keeping your word, you should be glad he lived. If you fight for social justice in any capacity, you had a fellow traveler. If you’re concerned about the fate of the planet we’re leaving to our children, you owe him a debt.

And if you have a beating heart in your chest, as God is my witness, you would have loved him.

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© Nell Redmond, Greenpeace

© Nell Redmond, Greenpeace

In a corporate “sustainability report,” Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said yesterday that her company needs to “a better job of safely managing our coal ash ponds.”

Uh, Earth to Lynn: That’s not gonna cut it. Duke doesn’t need to “manage” its ponds; it needs to get rid of them ASAP. As the experts at the Southern Environmental Law Center noted in this recent newsletter:

“The best option has always been to move the ash into dry, lined landfills away from water sources. Thanks to legal pressure from SELC, that’s just what major utilities in South Carolina have agreed to do. South Carolina Gas and Electric has already begun removing 2.4 million tons of coal ash from lagoons at its plant on the Wateree River. And in November, after months of litigation and negotiations, Santee Cooper committed to clean up 11 million tons of coal ash throughout its system.

Duke Energy should do the responsible thing and follow their lead. The state of North Carolina should immediately move to put in place clear, enforceable requirements to recycle coal ash or move it to lined landfills away from our waterways. To do otherwise is to ignore both the public will and the public good.”

Let’s hope citizens and advocacy groups keep up the pressure on Duke to stop stalling and start acting on the state’s coal ash crisis. In this vein hundreds of protesters will gather today for a large protest against Duke’s policies in downtown Charlotte. Click here and here for more information.

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SmokestacksYesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling in favor of EPA regulation of cross-state air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  Today, one of North Carolina’s best-known and most respected environmental advocates celebrated the decision and the efforts of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in making the whole thing happen. This is from Molly Diggins, head of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

“In 2002, North Carolina, with bipartisan support, passed the Clean Smokestacks Act, which directed the State of North Carolina to seek similar reductions from coal-fired power plants upwind to those the state was mandating from NC’s coal-fired power plants.

Using the Good Neighbor provisions of the Clean Air Act, Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the EPA to get reductions from upwind states that were impacting NC’s ability to have clean air, despite the stringent cleanup standards in Clean Smokestacks. The EPA responded with protections for states like North Carolina that are downwind of polluting states. But their action was challenged in court. Read More

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FF-coalAshNot that there isn’t good reason to doubt just about anything that Duke Energy spokespeople say when it comes to the recent coal ash disaster, but assuming that the claims advanced yesterday that full clean-up could cost $10 billion have any validity at all, here is one very obvious and concise response that those who care about the public interest might want to offer up:

“Yes, and your point?”

Seriously, did anyone think cleaning up the mess would be cheap or fast? We get it, Duke and we’ve gotten it for years. Your giant and massively profitable mega-corporation doesn’t want to spend any shareholder or fat cat executive dough on something as mundane and bothersome as cleaning up your own mess. Isn’t that special?

Well here’s the deal — or, at least what ought to be the deal: Read More