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Sometimes, its hard to figure where the folks on the far right are coming from in their crusade to sell off our public structures to the highest bidder. For some, plain, old-fashioned greed clearly plays a part, but with columns like this recent little doozy from the Pope-Civitas Institute, it’s clear that something else is at work.

And that something is an amazingly warped view of human society.

According to the Pope-Civitas people, the North Carolina Zoo is the “waste of the week.” And, no, it’s not because there’s been some incident of waste or graft; they simply don’t see any public value in the concept of a public zoological park. Here’s how they put it:

“Few would attempt to argue that a core service of state government is to display animals for viewing in our leisure time. The NC Zoo is still another example of something the state compels state taxpayers to subsidize that should instead be financed through voluntary support.”

To which all a body can say in response is: “Says who?”

Who says that it’s not a core service? And more to the point, who says that “to display animals for viewing in our leisure time” is all zoos are about?

Honestly, do these folks pay any attention at all? As even many fourth graders probably understand, there’s a hell of a lot more to zoos and other such institutions than “leisure.” Good lord, the list of important contributions made to human society by zoos — with respect to education, science, research, history, preserving the environment and endangered species, understanding our place on the planet and just plain making life more livable (and in dozens of other areas) — would take all day to spell out.

If anything, we desperately need more public institutions capable of such important accomplishments. What’s next on the Pope-Civitas hit list? Public libraries? Read More

Commentary

As Clayton Henkel reports below, even national news media have taken note of the embarrassingly cozy relationship between Duke Energy and North Carolina’s environmental regulators. Of course, federal prosecutors have too.

If ever there was a time for the state’s governor to signal a new direction and put the public ahead of polluters, now’s the time. An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Wilmington Star News  agrees:

“[Outgoing secretary John] Skvarla insisted from day one that he intended to make the scaled-down Department of Environment and Natural Resources more ‘customer-friendly.’ And it quickly became clear that his definition of ‘customer’ largely meant the corporate and development interests that apply for environmental permits.

But there is another category of customers: the people of North Carolina. Not only do they pay taxes to support the department, but they count on its regulators to protect the environment and public health.”

It concludes this way:

“Questions about the cozy relationship between DENR staff and the businesses they regulate did not originate with this administration; it has been an ongoing issue. Regulators do not have to be unnecessarily obstructionist. There is a lot to be said for streamlining the permit process, providing clarity on the rules and making sure businesses do not face long delays in obtaining permits, assuming their projects meet state standards.

But a regulator’s job is to regulate, not to placate. McCrory says he will cast the net far and wide to find the right person to fill the DENR post, both inside and outside the agency. That person should not only be a strong leader but also understand that the agency’s primary responsibility is to protect the state’s air, water, soil and other natural resources.”

Read the entire piece by clicking here.

Commentary

2-24-14-NCPW-cartoonTry as some people might to wish North Carolina’s massive coal ash problem away, it isn’t going anywhere soon — either physically or politically. Another chapter will begin to unfold this coming Sunday evening when the CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes  examines the situation.

According to the Charlotte Business Journal, Duke CEO Lynn Good will be interviewed by Leslie Stahl. No word on whether they will discuss the intimate relationship between Duke and the McCrory administration.

The Guv. of course is a former 28-year Duke employee, who keeps hiring many of his former colleagues into state government.

The story was apparently recorded in September, but the coal ash mess hasn’t gotten any better since — with residents of Lee County balking at hosting a repository, new leaks springing up and a federal investigation of the whole situation still lurking out there somewhere.

Bottom line: Stay tuned. Neither the coal ash itself or the political fallout from the Dan River disaster will be buried anytime soon.

News

Gov. Pat McCrory today joined 14 states and the governors of three others in a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration, which among other things halted the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants.

“The president has exceeded the balance of power provisions clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution and his unilateral expansion of power must be challenged,” McCrory said in a statement. “In North Carolina, the 10th most populous state, the president’s actions are likely to put even more financial strain on our state’s government services.  It’s disappointing that the president has shown little regard for states which must shoulder the costs of his actions.”

McCrory appears to have joined the lawsuit in his capacity as governor and without the participation of Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Governor’s counsel Robert Stephens signed the complaint on McCrory’s behalf.

Read the full complaint here.

Commentary
John Skvarla

John Skvarla

Sharon Decker

Sharon Decker

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory announced a major change in his cabinet today. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is out and Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla will take her place. No word yet on who will head DENR after Skvarla.

Though it’s hardly unprecedented for a Governor to, in effect, transfer secretaries from one agency to another, in a normal/sane world this particular switch would raise eyebrows. After all, it’s one thing to be the state’s top environmental protection chief and it’s quite another to be it’s top business schmoozer.

Or at least it ought to be.

Unfortunately, under the present regime in Raleigh, such an idea is perfectly logical and consistent. That’s one of the main reasons that today’s announcement produced a unanimous yawn from state political observers: No one ever had any illusion that Skvarla was doing anything other than serving the state’s big business community at DENR. By all appearances, the new gig will simply allow him to do essentially the same thing he’s been doing  — just with a different title.