Governor McCrory may want to consider Flint

A few months ago, the state of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality said the water was safe to drink near a coal ash site, only one year after saying it was not. I think many of us were puzzled by this reversal and I am sure that affected residents were in some disbelief.

Apparently, they would have been wise to not believe this reversal per the testimony of Ken Rudo, a state toxicologist. In his testimony, he chastised the leadership of the Department for its reversal saying they were endangering the public and made criticisms of the governor for at least being aware of the change in position.

Last week, the state epidemiologist, Megan Davies, resigned due to the Governor McCrory administration’s “false narrative.” The McCrory administration said Rudo lied under oath and both the state health director and assistant secretary in the Department of Environmental Quality fired off a public statement saying “Rudo’s unprofessional approach…does a disservice to public health and environmental protections in North Carolina.”

Really? I am having a hard time reconciling how being precautious does a disservice to public health. We only need to look north to Flint, Michigan and see what happens when state officials mask the risk of toxic water to a population. Nine current and former state of Michigan officials have been now been criminally charged because of hiding a problem which caused lead poisoning in a number of children and adults. As of yesterday, the problem is still being remedied with an increase in non-lead exposed homes from a low of 9% last fall to 45% as announced by Virginia Tech who is monitoring the progress.

Let’s break this issue in North Carolina down further. A toxicologist testifies under oath to inform the court that people living near the coal ash sites have remained at risk to dangerous toxins in their water. If he is lying, he will go to jail for perjury. His boss, an epidemiologist, resigns in support of the toxicologist’s claims. She left her job at a personal financial cost to protest the misrepresentation to the public. And, we are supposed to ignore these scientists and believe the governor’s administration? It should be noted the governor used to work for and remains a friend of the company whose coal ash is causing the issues.

So, my recommendation would be to believe the scientists who have risked so much to tell the story that the public may have been lied to about the safety of their drinking water. I would also recommend the governor’s administration take this seriously and revisit the issue. Because if they don’t and it turns out that Rudo and Davies are indeed correct, some folks in the McCrory administration may be censured, fired or worse. And, that might include the man running to keep his office, whether he wins or not.

For more on the story prior to Davies’ resignation, please refer to the attached link to a PBS Newshour report.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/state-health-director-may-covered-toxic-water-north-carolina/

Just a song before I go

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang the following words:

“Just a song before I go,
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned.”

I use this initial stanza of the song entitled in the first line, to note we need to not make hasty decisions, as we will end up being burned. I am thinking of the backlash against my home state of North Carolina for an unconstitutional law it passed against transgender people, specifically, but also slipping in LGBT restrictions, in general. The law also said any employee could not bring action in state court, if their rights were violated, leaving the only recourse in lengthier and more expensive Federal court.

The song comes to mind, as the state General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory passed and signed the bill in twelve hours after the City of Charlotte passed a law allowing transgender folks to use the restroom they identify with. This law jives with that of 200 other cities. Many legislators did not realize the LGBT restrictions were added to the law and some were unaware of the state court restrictions for all employees.

Now, my formerly progressive state, continues to become more like the southern states of the pre-Civil Rights era. Now, we are mentioned in national news in a negative and unwelcoming light, as opposed to how the Chamber of Commerce would like to present us. Since fear was used to sell this hasty law, the General Assembly and Governor are having difficulty making changes to it. You cannot scare people as your main selling point and then walk it back.

I would wager the General Assembly would like to hit the “undo” button.

Moral Monday protestors represent what’s best in America

In spring, 2013, a series of weekly protests began in North Carolina that continue until this day called “Moral Mondays.” The Moral Monday protestors came together to provide a voice to those who are being further disenfranchised by actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The protestors were at first discounted by some legislators as people not from North Carolina, but surveys of the protestors revealed they are almost entirely from our state. The protestors were also lampooned on a website which made fun of those who were arrested in Raleigh for violating trespassing rules and failing to disperse. That was extremely poor form by the website owner. As of this writing almost all of the 900 cases have been dismissed.

I have attended two Moral Monday protests as an Independent voter, one in Charlotte and one in Raleigh with my oldest son. What I witnessed were doctors, teachers, professors, ministers, rabbis, deacons, lawyers and people from all walks of life, races, and ethnic groups. What I witnessed is what’s best in America. I shared with my son how proud I was for the two of us to see democracy in action.

We should remind ourselves of why the Moral Monday protestors came to be, as many of the challenges they are protesting remain an uphill battle. Yet, we should also give kudos to the Moral Monday protestors who, in concert with teachers and parents across the state, helped convince the General Assembly to enact a long needed pay increase for teachers after harmful cuts were made in education funding. The General Assembly and Governor should be commended for acting and I am glad they made the effort, but we should also remember they were filling the hole they and previous Assembly’s dug over the years, so atta boys and girls should be somewhat tempered by that memory.

While the General Assembly has done some good things, actions have also been taken to infringe upon the rights of our common citizens, which have given our state some unfortunate national notoriety. This is why the Moral Monday protestors came into being. In addition to the cuts made in education and disenfranchisement of teachers which is causing flight to (and recruitment from) other states, the protestors are concerned over severe unemployment cuts that went further than needed. The protestors are concerned that a tax cut primarily benefitted those who made the most, while taking away things like the state Earned Income Tax credit for low-income earners. The protestors are concerned about not expanding Medicaid which would help several hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, help rural hospitals from closing and help our state economy.

The protestors are concerned with a voter suppressive law which is being touted in commercials, but is being challenged in court and will likely be ruled unconstitutional next year as was done in three other states – Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The stated purpose of the Voter ID law is to combat fraud, but voter fraud is immaterial and per retired General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the real problem to solve is not enough people voting. It should be noted two other laws passed by the General Assembly have been ruled unconstitutional, so the Voter ID law overturn would not be the first one. Plus, yesterday the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary order to restrict two features of the Voter ID from being used this November.

And, the Moral Monday protestors are concerned with the changes that will harm our environment. These changes include, but are not limited to, making it easier to cut down trees to put up distracting electronic billboards, not accepting a peer-reviewed scientific report that echoes the 39 feet expected sea level rise by 2100 approved in other states like Virginia, hamstringing the Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s governance, and pushing forward a fracking agenda even though evidence continues to mount that fracking causes environmental problems. Coupled with the failure to fully understand how prevalent solar energy is in our state (and the number of jobs created as a result) reveals an unhealthy fossil fuel industry influence. When I attended a Raleigh Moral Monday protest in May, more environmental advocacy signs were apparent than the one I attended in Charlotte the previous summer.

I recognize some may still discount the veracity of the Moral Monday protestors’ arguments. However, in my view, these protestors should be commended for their efforts. At the very minimum, their voice needs to be heard. With teachers adding their voice and voting with their feet, change did occur this past summer. Now, we need more. Three things could be done in short order to help many in our state, plus doing more of something the Governor is advocating. First, either advocate the US Congress to increase the minimum wage or introduce one in NC that is larger than $7.25 per hour. A living wage in NC for one adult is $9.12 per hour. Second, expand Medicaid in our state before another hospital closes or more people go without needed, but unavailable treatment. It should not take another GOP Mayor walking to Washington to save a hospital and lives to get Medicaid expanded here. *

Third, let’s embrace solar energy as there are more solar jobs than coal jobs in our country and we have a huge start here, even before Duke Energy’s announcements the past two weeks. There is also more sun for energy and tourists than natural gas to frack, plus fracking and tourists do not mix and it does not mix too well with the residents either. And, wind energy can be further leveraged, especially offshore, where ocean acreage has been zoned for consideration.

Finally, we should provide kudos to Governor McCrory for pushing the community college training and redevelopment efforts that began with the Stimulus Act under the President. This is where we should be investing our time, dollars and energy as evidenced by Siemens, Snyders-Lance and others partnering with CPCC. Our state is blessed with one of the best community college systems in the country and we should leverage these assets more.

Thank you Moral Monday protestors. Please keep the faith. Your voice is needed. Your issues should be heard. Let’s hope more legislators are listening. And, thanks Governor for pushing the community college investment.

 

* Per the Associated Press on September 25, 2014, “The report from the Department of Health and Human Services said hospitals in states that have taken advantage of new Medicaid eligibility levels have seen uninsured admissions fall by about 30 percent. The report estimated that the cost of uncompensated hospital care will be $5.7 billion lower in 2014.”

When things get too cozy – the travails of Duke Energy and DENR

I have been a customer and shareholder of Duke Energy for over thirty years. I have also been a North Carolina taxpayer for the same length of time. For the most part, Duke Energy has been a good company and recognized as such in its industry. Yet it has had a few moments when it got involved with some accounting irregularities in South Carolina and it bought into the gas transmission industry before it exited it with much egg on its face. With that context, I want to share my disappointment in Duke on the coal ash spill that could have been avoided along with their response. I also want to add that criticism of too cozy a relationship between Duke, the NC Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) and our governor is well placed.

As many of you know, Duke Energy is responsible for coal ash leaks on the North Carolina and Virginia border which have spilled coal ash into the Dan River. The “Dan” provides water to several communities in Rockingham County, which ironically is the seat of the Senate Leader in NC, Phil Berger. Rightfully so, Senator Berger has expressed outrage at Duke and their failure to notify people timely and their poor response.  However, the senator is also responsible for helping defang the environmental protections in our state and promoting fracking with an industry loaded committee to study the issue, so he has contributed to our lackluster environmental protection.

Duke is concerned about fixing the problem, but what troubles me is the issue of the coal ash ponds in our state was raised by several environmental groups last year in a lawsuit. They shared many concerns over the dozens of coal ash ponds, but the DENR decided to make it easier by consolidating the lawsuits into one and then settling with Duke for a fine of $99,000 and a commitment to clean things up on Duke’s timetable. That number is correct – a Fortune 500 company was fined the amount of $99,000, which cannot even count as being a slap on the wrist. As of this post, DENR has been sued by the Environmental Protection Agency and copies of emails have been requested to discern any foul play.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that our governor, Pat McCrory was an employee of Duke Energy before winning the governor’s race. However, this cozy relationship has been fairly cozy for some time, predating McCrory’s tenure. But, under the guise of reducing so-called burdensome regulations on industry, the environmental restrictions have been greatly loosened in our state, especially the past three years. Our General Assembly has passed some questionable legislation as well as considering rolling back a requirement to do more alternative energy, before it was beaten back when they realized late how successful the solar energy industry has been here. The Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis, noted his surprise that NC was the 5th most prolific solar energy state in the country at the time.

As a Duke shareholder, I have sent two emails to the previous and current CEOs about cleaning up the coal ash ponds. The first one was last spring to Jim Rogers and the second one was this past week to Lynn Good, the new CEO.  She came out in the paper saying the clean-up of the Dan River spill is on Duke (shareholders) while the clean up of other coal ash ponds will be on the customers. This last statement has not sat well with customers. Good is thinking too much like she was still in her old job of CFO and not like someone whose company screwed up and people were harmed. I understand her rationale, but by failing to act last year, Duke threw away the last shred of goodwill on this subject. The governor is banging on the lid of a trash can now, but he is a little behind on the issue in most people’s minds, as well.

Duke Energy, you are better than this. You have done some nice things in alternative energy and shut down some coal plants. That is good and you should be commended. Now, do the right thing and clean up the ponds before the next accident. Do what you should have done last year when you were apprised of the concerns. You should also be thinking about more creative ways to pay for this and not place the lion’s share of the burden on customers. And, please continue decommissioning the coal-fired plants as you have been doing. We need to divorce ourselves from coal at a faster clip as there is no such thing as clean coal and it does not get cleaner sitting in a coal ash pond.

I would also encourage you to link to a much more thorough post in Amaya’s blog called The Brabble Rabble.  Amaya includes greater detail about the defanging of the DENR and other environmental groups in North Carolina. Here is a link: http://thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/politics-north-carolina-style-coal-ash-pollutes-nc-waters-as-regulatory-body-endures-job-and-funding-cuts-duke-energy-promises-to-pass-clean-up-costs-on-to-customers/#comment-2251