Commentary

Flint water crisis: A model for conservative privatizers?

It’s an open secret that many modern American conservatives want, as one of their ideological leaders put it with horrific and violent imagery a few years back, to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

And here in North Carolina, we can attest that the plan is fully operational. In area after area, our state’s right-wing leadership is doing its utmost to undermine our public structures — in education, healthcare, environmental protection — as part of a plan to hollow them out and sell them off.

Indeed, it’s not too far-fetched to begin to see some parallels between the Flint, Michigan water crisis and what’s going on here. Think about it. As I point out in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“The Right’s disingenuous propaganda about ‘choice'”) there are actually some striking parallels and important lessons:

“The simple truth is that public education is not a commodity or a consumer product. It is an indispensable component of a free and healthy society – like clean air and water or a public safety system.

Imagine if we told the people of Flint, Michigan that they are now ‘free’ from the ‘burdensome regulations’ of a failed public water system and have ‘choice’ when it comes to where they get their water. As outrageous as that would be, it’s hard to see how it differs much from the bill of goods school ‘choice’ champions are peddling here.”

Indeed, that’s precisely the nature of the scam: Keep under-funding public systems and structures and then, when they fail to perform up to snuff, blame it on the very nature of government and “bureaucracy” and use it as a justification to perpetuate the vicious cycle by cutting spending still further and selling off more public assets.

Let’s hope the crisis in Flint wakes people up to the simple reality that the only way for Americans to save their public structures and common good institutions from the privatizing vultures is to nurture them, invest in them and keep them strong.

Commentary

Are Duke Energy and the McCrory administration committing a human rights violation?

Coal ash eventSome victims of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution gathered with a group of advocates and activists in front of the North Carolina Governor’s mansion this morning. Their message to Gov. Pat McCrory (who was recently revealed to have had a secret dinner meeting last summer with representatives of his longtime former employer (i.e. Duke) even as the company was facing prosecution for its misdeeds):

“Come have dinner with us too….Oh, and bring some water, too.”

Lord knows they could use both.

The water would come in handy because Duke has now informed a large number of folks living near ash sites in Goldsboro, Belmont and other places that their water is no longer safe to drink. Indeed, the company is now providing these folks with one gallon of bottled water per person per day for an indeterminate period even as it continues to drag its feet in cleaning up the sites.

As one homeowner noted (after listing some of the numerous untimely deaths that have occurred in her community from cancers and other diseases), “just imagine trying to live this way.”

And the dinner meeting? Well, if McCrory would actually break bread with some of these people (many of whom stated this morning that they have been asking for such a meeting for months to no avail) it might force him to summon up a smidgen of empathy. After all, we’re talking about average, middle and working class folks living in the 21st Century in one of the most advanced societies on the planet, who have lost access to one of the fundamentals of life: safe drinking water.

It’s enough to make a body think of the ongoing disaster in Flint, Michigan (where the city and state are now attempting to deal with the fallout from having poisoned a large portion of the citizenry through their shortsighted decision to save a few bucks).

Indeed, as one public health expert argued persuasively the other day, it’s quite plausible that the scandal in Flint amounts to a human rights violation:

“This emergency goes beyond simply a public health problem….It is something much worse: a human rights abuse in an American city. In 2010, the United Nations declared that ‘ … clean drinking water … [is] essential to the realization of all human rights.’ Flint’s contaminated water will prevent children from realizing their human right to health, enumerated in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Let’s hope things don’t get that far in North Carolina. But if these wronged North Carolinians don’t soon get some relief, perhaps it’s time to start raising the same question here: Are Duke Energy and the McCrory administration committing (or, at least, enabling) a human rights violation? It would be interesting to hear McCrory’s explanation as to why they aren’t.

Commentary, News

ACT Against Coal Ash: Citizens group demands clean-up, responds to McCrory-Duke meeting

A statewide citizens group formed last year to demand stronger state environmental protection efforts to combat coal ash pollution is decrying the new state rankings attached to the state’s coal ash ponds and the closed door meeting between Gov. McCrory and Duke energy officials that came to light this week. Here are some excerpts from a press release that the group distributed yesterday:

“The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash formed in July as a way for residents from across the state to connect in solidarity in their demands for an end to the coal ash crisis. Members were appalled and confused last week when DEQ downgraded coal ash sites that as recently as December the agency’s staff had ranked as high priority. The proposed low or low-intermediate status means the sites could potentially be capped in place and left indefinitely to leak toxins into neighboring groundwater supplies.

‘It’s an established fact that all sites are leaking, so of course they should be listed as high priority,’ says Deborah Graham, who lives near the Buck plant in Salisbury. ‘We know more than we ever wanted to know about the damage this toxic waste causes to our environment and health each and every day it continues to sit there.’

‘DEQ changing our priority from high to low-intermediate is just wrong,’ says Debra Baker, who lives within 100 feet of the G.G. Allen plant in Belmont. ‘DEQ says they did not have enough information from Duke Energy, but they have had several months. Now, we are still living on bottled water, waiting for this mess to be cleaned up.’

To urgently address the realities of coal ash pollution, ACT Against Coal Ash released its Unifying Principles so that state decision makers, Duke Energy, and the public can better understand the needs and demands of residents most harmed — now or in the future — by Duke’s coal ash pollution.

The alliance also launched a website and a video.

And here are some statements made by ACT Against Coal Ash members in response to yesterday’s WRAL.com story that Gov. McCrory met with Duke Energy officials in a private, closed door meeting last June:

From Debra Baker, whose husband died from environmentally related lung disease several years after moving into their home next to G.G. Allen, which has been illegally polluting the air for decades:”I’ve tried calling and emailing Governor McCrory. I’ve sent him photographs of my house full of bottled water. And all I’ve gotten is his automatic email response. He’s never called, sent a letter, nothing. I’m mad that he’s having backroom meetings with Duke Energy but won’t talk to us. It seems like he thinks my husband’s life doesn’t matter. My husband was only 43 years old when he passed. Now, I’m a widow with a 19 year old son. They think this problem is just going to go away, but it’s not. It’s our lives. They need to talk to us.”

Read more

Commentary

Report: State just spinning its wheels with “solar bees” in Jordan Lake

Here’s some shocking news: the big eggbeaters that North Carolina’s political leaders had touted as an alternative to the costly and time consuming (but proven) pollution control methods that had been planned at one time to clean up the Triangle’s Jordan Lake are, in a word, a “bust.”

This is from the Department of Environmental Quality’s preliminary report after a year of solar powered water churning:

“There were no statistically significant differences in pH and Chl a values at all three project treatment versus control site comparisons during SolarBee deployment, with the exception of significantly higher Chl a concentrations at the Haw River project site compared to its control site. Morgan Creek project area sites had the same or lower percent exceedances for both pH and Chl a than their control sites in New Hope Creek, but all were above water quality impairment criteria. The Haw River project area site had higher percent exceedances for both pH and Chl a than its control site. These preliminary results indicate that nutrient related water quality conditions did not significantly improve in areas of the lake where SolarBees were deployed.”

Who would have guessed?

No word yet on whether the report will cause state officials to reconsider their harebrained delaying tactic toward what needs to be done. If the response of conservative politicians to any number of far more dire environmental problems plaguing the state and the world are any indication, there’s reason for concern.

Commentary

McCrory aptly signs Polluter Protection Act late Friday when no one was watching

You’d think if he was going to sign a bill that’s been widely condemned in editorials across the state and decried by every major environmental organization in North Carolina, he’d at least have the courage to stand up, face the cameras and explain himself.

Unfortunately, that’s not how Pat McCrory rolls. Instead the Guv simply buried the Polluter Protection Act in a list of several bills signed late last Friday when the media had already pretty much packed up shop for the week. All in all, it was a fitting way to usher in a new and hugely destructive law that was crafted in secret by corporate lobbyists and rammed through the General Assembly with as little public input as possible.

The Monday newsletter of the League of Conservation Voters explains once more what’s in this mess of a new law:

Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday left no doubt where he stands. By signing HB 765, the 2015 “rules reform” bill now widely known as the Polluter Protection Act, McCrory acted to protect polluters at the cost of greatly increased danger to the health, clean water, and clean air of all North Carolinians. Read more