News

Update: UNC Board of Governors wants UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor gone by January 31

The UNC Board of Governors accepted UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt’s resignation Tuesday – but said they want her out of the position by the end of this month.

Folt announced her resignation abruptly Monday after tensions with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue. In a press conference Tuesday morning, Folt said she hoped to stay until graduation in May.

The Board of Governors has authorized interim UNC President William Roper to to appoint an interim chancellor “at such time as he deems appropriate” until a new full-time chancellor can be chosen.

UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith said in a statement Monday that the board was blindsided by Folt’s resignation and upset by her  order to remove the base of the Confederate statue, which was taken to an unnamed secure location Monday night.

While I’m disappointed by the Board of Governors’ timeline, I have truly loved my almost six years at Carolina,” Folt said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “Working with our students, faculty and staff has inspired me every day. It is their passion and dedication, and the generosity of our alumni and community, that drive this great University.”

“I believe that Carolina’s next chancellor will be extremely fortunate, and I will always be proud to be a Tar Heel,” Folt said in the statement.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Amid Barr confirmation hearings, former N.C. judges call for “fair and impartial” Russia investigation

A screen grab of William Barr at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and former state Court of Appeals Judge Gerald Arnold are old enough to remember the issues and debacle surrounding Watergate — they also grew up during the Cold War and understand well the threats imposed on a democratic system.

They said during a Tuesday teleconference that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. attorney general, William Barr, was of utmost importance in light of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the administration’s relationship with Russia.

“The public should be able to believe the legal process and procedures we’re going through with here is going to be fair and impartial, and to be fair and impartial, it has to be independent,” Arnold said.

Barr, if confirmed, would succeed Jeff Sessions. He served as both attorney general and deputy attorney general during George H.W. Bush’s administration. He has openly condemned the Mueller investigation, and he’s been criticized by Democrats for his views on everything from executive power to immigration and mass incarceration.

Orr said the protection of Mueller’s investigation needed to be a top priority for any attorney general in this administration. He said there was an extraordinary external threat and the investigation needs to be full and thorough.

“I have absolute faith and confidence in Robert Mueller and his team, in the law enforcement and intelligent communities that serve this country,” he added.

There are a number of ways an attorney general could impede Mueller’s investigation, including by limiting the resources available, having improper communications and not releasing the final report to the public. The latter seems hard to conceive of though, Orr and Arnold said.

“I think the ultimate question that continues to crop up: Where does his loyalty lie?” Orr said of Barr, adding that loyalty should first be to the oath and to the people of U.S., not to the president. “I think that we have to operate on a degree of trust that someone in Mr. Barr’s potential capacity as attorney general has to understand their oath and responsibilities.”

Susanna Hailey, of Law Works, who hosted the teleconference, said Barr’s nomination was the most significant since former President Richard Nixon’s nomination of Elliot Richardson, a former U.S. attorney general who opted to resign when Nixon ordered for him to interfere in the Watergate investigation.

A recent poll by Law Works — a group that “engages bipartisan voices and educates the public on the importance of the rule of law, the role of the special counsel in the justice system, and the integrity of our judicial institutions” — found 81 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Republicans, believe “Trump should not be allowed to pick the person who investigates him because the investigation needs to be independent and not controlled by the person who is being investigated.”

Hailey said Trump, through his actions has said he wants an attorney general who will undermine Mueller’s investigation.

The Senate hearing is underway today. You can watch it live here.

News

Update: UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor denies “Silent Sam” issue led to resignation

In a short telephone press conference Tuesday morning, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt denied tensions with the UNC Board of Governors over the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument led to her announcing her resignation this week.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt

“I have not wanted my job status to be part of the decision making about the monument and it hasn’t been,” Folt told reporters Tuesday.

Her decision to order the removal of the base of the statue – which was toppled by protesters last year – came in the same Monday statement in which she announced her resignation. Both moves blindsided the UNC Board of Governors, according to Board Chair Harry Smith.

But after nearly six years as chancellor, Folt said, she had been considering her next steps for some time. The tension with the board over the statue and her resulting order, which infuriated some of its members, happened at the same time she made her decision but weren’t directly related, she said.

After touting her accomplishments as chancellor since 2013, Folt deflected questions about her tensions with the UNC Board of Governors and rejected the notion that she should have acted more quickly and decisively on the divisive monument.

Asked whether she had waited too long to develop moral clarity over the statue and the necessity of its removal, Folt said she believes her moral position hasn’t changed. She was simply looking at the problem for a legal perspective and constrained by a 2015 state law protecting such statues, she said.

With the statue’s toppling and continued examples of its danger to campus safety, she said, the way the problem was approached had to be changed. Last month Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees delivered a report to the board of governors in which a panel of security experts concluded the statue should not return to campus. Prominent members of the board of governors disagreed, with Smith saying the law left no other option.

The board of governors is meeting in an emergency closed session teleconference at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss Folt’s resignation announcement.

Asked if she thinks they will fire her or ask her to leave before the end of the semester, Folt said she couldn’t speculate – but she hopes not.

Environment

Extra pollution controls on Enviva wood pellet plant still don’t address industry’s contributions to climate change

The Enviva plant in Hamlet, under construction. It will be company’s fourth wood pellet plant in North Carolina. The others are in Hertford, Northampton and Sampson counties. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The controversial Enviva wood pellet plant in Hamlet has received a key state permit that would allow it to pulverize more logs and ship the pellets overseas to be burned as fuel.

As Policy Watch reported in November, Enviva had asked DEQ to modify its air permit in more than a dozen ways. The most significant request was an increase in production of pellets from 537,000 oven-dried tons per year to 625,000. The Maryland-based company also wanted to change with the mix of softwoods and hardwoods it would use.

These adjustments can produce greater amounts of pollutants, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs), like formaldehyde and benzene. Enviva proposed to install controls that the company says will cap pollution to less than 250 tons per year.

During the public hearing, timber industry workers and representatives asked DEQ to approve the permit for economic reasons. Environmental and health advocates and several scientists urged DEQ to reject the proposal, pending further reviews. Among their requests were air monitoring at the fenceline, a more thorough environmental justice analysis and a fuller accounting of how the wood pellet industry contradicts the governor’s executive order on climate change.

DEQ said in its press release that after considering public comments, the agency required additional pollution monitoring and controls on the plant. For example, Enviva will now have to test for particulate matter, including PM 2.5. That particulate matter is no wider than a human hair and can burrow deeply into the lungs.

Source: DEQ

 

But these additional controls don’t address the global impact of the wood pellet industry.

The United Kingdom burns wood pellets in lieu of coal, ostensibly to cut its carbon dioxide emissions. But science has shown that the entire production cycle of wood pellets creates more CO2 per unit of energy than coal. Cutting the trees releases CO2 into the air. It takes decades for new trees to absorb the same amount of CO2 as its timbered forebearers. Add in the emissions from the plant and transportation — truck, rail and ship — plus the actual burning of the pellets themselves.

Adam Colette, program director at Dogwood Alliance, immediately criticized DEQ’s decision. Dogwood Alliance has worked with concerned Richmond County citizens in opposing the project on environmental, social justice and public health grounds.

“The Cooper administration and the NC Department of Environmental Quality continue to take one step forward and two steps back on forests, environmental justice and the climate crisis in North Carolina,” Collete said in a prepared statement. “Even with advanced air quality controls, allowing Enviva to increase logging and degrade natural flood protections directly in the region of our state where major storms have devastated communities is an injustice to all North Carolinians. We hoped the administration would be a champion for forests and communities. Clearly we are still waiting for that day to come.”

 

News

Remants of “Silent Sam” removed from UNC campus as chancellor resigns

Yesterday, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation in the midst of a standoff with the UNC Board of Governors over the return of the Silent Sam Confederate statue to campus.

She also further rankled the board by ordering the base of the statue, which was toppled by protesters, removed from its site at McCorkle Place.

Overnight, a crew removed the pedestal.

Governor Roy Cooper signaled his support for Folt in a statement early Tuesday.

“I appreciate the Chancellor’s actions to keep students and the public safe,” Cooper said in the statement. “North Carolina is welcoming to all, and our public university should reflect that.”

But UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith condemned the chancellor’s move in his own statement, which is likely to represent the sentiment of the conservative-dominated board.

“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Folt said.  “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”

Folt’s resignation came during an emergency closed session of the board, held via phone conference Monday, “to deliberate issues related to UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership.”

That has fueled speculation that the board’s simmering tension with Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the future of the monument had come to a boil, forcing Folt to choose between defying the governing board of the UNC system or staying in her job.

The board has called another emergency closed session teleconference Tuesday at 1 p.m. “to discuss a confidential personnel matter.”

Folt will hold her own short telephone-only press conference at 11: 15 a.m. during which she will make a further statement and take some questions.

Last month Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees unveiled a plan to return the Confederate monument to the Chapel Hill campus, as the UNC general counsel concluded was mandated by a 2015 law intended to protect Confederate monuments.

The plan, which called for building $5.3 million UNC history center in which the statue and other UNC historical items would be displayed, was rejected by both the board and those who opposed the statue’s return.

Folt and the board members made clear, as she had said for months, they would prefer the statue not return to campus at all. The plan, they said, was an attempt to thread the needle of complying with the law and making the statue a less prominent part of the campus.

The board of governors appointed at ask force composed of board members Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho to work with Folt and the school’s board of trustees on a new plan.

A statement of support for Folt from several board of trustees members following her resignation suggests that process reached an impasse almost from the beginning.

“As current officers of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a former chair who served with Chancellor Carol L. Folt, we support her decision to remove intact the base of the Confederate Monument and accept her decision to step down from her position,” the trustees wrote in the statement. “We thank Chancellor Folt for working tirelessly to elevate our University each and every day to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond.”

Some of Folt’s critics on the political left – frustrated she did not oppose the board of governors and condemn the monument earlier – continued those criticisms in the wake of her resignation Monday.

Hampton Dellinger, a former North Carolina Deputy Attorney General who last year threatened a federal lawsuit over the statue, took to Twitter with his thoughts.

On Tuesday morning, however, Dellinger applauded Folt’s follow-through in removing the statue’s remnants from campus.