Has Gov. Pat McCrory been hypnotized by The Beverly Hillbillies?
Specifically, the opening sequence in which Jed Clampett Is "shootin' at some food" when, as the ballad goes, "up through the ground came a bubblin' crude."
Oil, that is, black gold, "Texas Tea."
You might think McCrory has drunk the Texas Tea if you heard him crow about the financial benefits of tracking offshore drilling in his State of the State address last night: "Think what we can do with future revenue."
Yes, let's think about it: Besides the obvious environmental hazards (have we forgotten the BP disaster already?), it is unknown how much "economically recoverable" deposits—those that can be accessed cheaply enough for energy companies to turn a profit— lie in federal waters in the mid-Atlantic. (Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles from shore, yet fall under a state's administrative areas.)
Even if sizable deposits were discovered, it would require a change in federal law for North Carolina or any mid-Atlantic state to receive royalties. Currently, only the Gulf states and Alaska share in revenue from drilling operations in federal waters; lawmakers from those states are lobbying for more money from the feds.
And as the INDY reported in 2010 in a story about the prospects of off-shore drilling, those discoveries would only briefly sate Americans' appetite for oil and gas. Overall, Americans use about 840 million gallons of oil per day, according to the Energy Information Agency, meaning even on the high end, the amount of oil in the mid-Atlantic would feed our habit for roughly seven weeks. As for natural gas, the deposits would provide about six months' worth.
McCrory's push to put rigs in the Atlantic is in part a response to last year's Senate Bill 709, which Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed. That bill would have requested Perdue to join a compact with other states, including Virginia and South Carolina to develop and implement a strategy to increase exploration and production of offshore oil and gas.” In his State of the State address, McCrory said he would enter into such an agreement.
Inland, where fracking could begin as early as next year, preliminary estimates of North Carolina's gas potential are "wildly optimistic," according to Ken Taylor, assistant state geologist with the N.C. geological survey.
(Senate Bill 76, the Domestic Jobs Act, will be heard in the Commerce Committee today at 11 a.m. in Room 1027 of the Legislative Building.)
And as INDY Week reported last spring, an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources study showed that drilling activities in the 59,000-acre Sanford sub-basin would sustain an annual average of 387 jobs over seven years, peaking with 858 jobs in year six. These jobs would be temporary and it would be unlikely that highest-paying positions for experienced drillers would go to North Carolinians, who have not been trained for that work.
So, governor, set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y'all come back now, y'hear?
Wake county commissioners are being called out on public transit—again.
This time it's Raleigh colleges and universities insisting commissioners stop blocking a half-cent sales tax referendum that would bring light rail and expanded bus service to the Triangle.
In a letter obtained by INDY Week, and mailed to county commissioners today, William Peace University president Debra Townsley writes, "Our fast-growing region simply cannot afford to wait any longer in laying the critical infrastructure for a dynamic future. We believe this is the year to let voters decide on transit."
The letter was written on behalf of Cooperating Raleigh Colleges, a group which includes North Carolina State University, Meredith College, Shaw University, St. Augustine's College and WPU.
The Republican-led Wake county commission is the only government body in the Triangle that continues to block the transit tax. Last year, Durham County and Orange County citizens passed half-cent sales tax referendums to expand public transit. The Raleigh City Council has also shown support for the transit tax.
Wake county commissioners refused to even debate the transit tax last year or take up a measure that would allow the referendum.
The light rail portion of the plan would create three corridors. One would run from Durham to Chapel Hill. Another would extend from Durham to Cary, Raleigh and Garner. The third would connect Apex and Wake Forest.
In her letter, Townsley says that expanding transit will be beneficial to students and unemployed people, as well as entice graduates to stay in the area.
Many progressives also argue that development will boom along the rail corridors once the transit plan is in place. However, commissioner Paul Coble has called the transit plan a "boondoggle."
Certain undocumented immigrants will be eligible for driver's licenses and ID cards, according to a press release issued today by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The department will also reinstate driving privileges to 13 immigrants whose licenses were suspending pending the N.C. Attorney General's opinion and the N.C. DOT review.
The decision affects immigrants who have been accepted into the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
In June 2012, Homeland Security established DACA, a program allowing undocumented immigrants who as children had been brought to the U.S. by their parents, to legally stay in the U.S. for two years without being deported.
On Jan. 17, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper issued an opinion authorizing the Division of Motor Vehicles to grant the licenses but the N.C. DOT delayed its decision to do so for nearly a month.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, disagreed with Cooper's opinion, telling The News & Observer that the attorney general's office "was wrong."
Immigrants and their advocates protested the delay, and asked newly appointed DOT Secretary Tony Tata to proceed with issuing the licenses.
Coastal military bases, federal crop insurance and federal disaster aid: These government programs are vulnerable to the effects of climate change—enough that the Government Accountability Office has placed the fed's financial vulnerability to climate change-related weather events on a "high risk" list.
A report released today cites observations by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) that the "impacts and costliness of weather disasters—resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones—will increase in significance as what are considered 'rare' events become more common and intense due to climate change. In addition, less acute changes in the climate, such as sea level rise, could also result in significant long-term impacts."
The government could have to raise river and coastal dikes and build higher bridges to protect infrastructure from sea level rise.
That will cost money, as will federal disaster aid. Disaster declarations have increased in recent decades, the report says, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated over $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011. More than $60 billion in federal funding was requested for relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy.
How can the government reduce the nation's vulnerability to climate change? Limit greenhouse gas emissions, the report concludes.
In defeat, protest, or a bit of both, a group of advocates walked out of a Durham City Council work session Thursday after the Council dismissed their concerns about the restrictive new panhandling ordinance.
Just minutes earlier, the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt had arrived at City Hall enthused to represent Durham’s homeless, joined by 10 others from the faith community. She hoped to convince council members to repeal the ordinance, which prohibits panhandlers from posting at the city’s most profitable spots.
The law, Schuldt told council members, “directly impacts the survival of a very vulnerable population by making them more dependent on government support as it is no longer possible for them to support themselves.”
Before Schuldt could reach the crux of her argument, the Council cut her off. Flustered, she distributed copies of a petition for repeal (signed by 437 local people) to council members, and then took her seat in the audience.
In his response, Councilman Eugene Brown expressed offense, saying that he resented the group’s “insinuation” that the city doesn’t care about the homeless. He addressed the advocates regarding their silent protest at the City Council meeting earlier this week.
“The implication by holding up the signs is that Durham is a city that has turned its back on the homeless population,” Brown said. “And that is simply not true. We are working to do what we can to meet this challenge.”
At that City Council meeting, Mayor Bell cited several programs and initiatives that are working to help Durham’s poor, as several homeless people sat in the audience.
Are the homeless failing to take advantage of these services, or are they not meeting the criteria? Schuldt’s point is that many homeless suffer from physical and mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, so are considered too “at-risk” to be eligible for such programs.
Panhandling is their last resort. “It is very humiliating, frustrating, demeaning work, done out of necessity by those with no available alternative,” Schuldt said.
For now, the ordinance appears to be in place. Councilman Brown reiterated that the ordinance was prompted by safety concerns, as well as citizens’ complaints. He said the Council’s position is actually a compromise, and less restrictive compared to rules in Chapel Hill, where begging is disallowed on public streets entirely.
As the Mayor concurred with Brown’s response, the advocates filed out of the room. They gathered in the hallway, murmuring with disappointment. “I was supposed to have five minutes,” said Schuldt, momentarily downcast.
She plans to attend next week’s work session to respond to Brown. “This is not the end. God is in our midst.”
Her nonprofit, Open Table Ministry, will hold a Winter Walk on behalf of Durham’s homeless population on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. The four-mile walk on the American Tobacco Trail will begin at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Pastor Rich Goodier of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church in Durham was among those in favor of repeal at the work session. “I hope that they will reconsider,” said Goodier. “They need to think about how to fight poverty, not fight the poor.”
Those troubled by Gov. Pat McCrory's far-right appointments and statements in recent weeks will find more to wail about in at least one of the governor's prospective appointments to the N.C. State Board of Education.
McCrory's nominations include former U.S. Congressman Bill Cobey, a Chapel Hill resident who currently sits as vice chairman for the Jesse Helms Center's operating board in Wingate. Yes, that Jesse Helms.
From its website, the Union County center, which acts as something of a museum in Helms' native county, is pledged to promoting "traditional American values and the principles upon which our nation was founded and that Senator Helms advanced throughout his career."
Cobey, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-1980s, is a former chairman of the state Republican Party. His experience also includes time in former Gov. Jim Martin's administration, serving as deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, and then as secretary of the state Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources.
Cobey also acted as state campaign chief for presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in North Carolina. Huckabee is, you know, not a moderate.
The appointment, which must be confirmed by the N.C. General Assembly, would last through March 2019.
Expect a swift—and angry—response on this one.
The N.C. Court of Appeals released its opinion today in the case of Laurence Alvin Lovette, one of two men convicted of killing UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Eve Carson in 2008. The high-profile murder case was one of the most notorious in UNC-Chapel Hill's history.
According to Tuesday's court opinion, Lovette is due a resentencing because of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer in Miller v. Alabama. The nation's highest court ruled then that a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" if the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Lovette was 17 when Carson was murdered.
The state court opinion vacated Lovette's sentence and ordered the trial court to "determine the appropriate sentence" for Lovette.
Read former INDY Week writer Matt Saldaña's 2008 Front Porch feature on Carson here.
The conservative voting bloc on Wake County's school board is fading fast.
Debra Goldman confirmed to the News and Observer today that she is moving to Wilkes County and has submitted her resignation to the Board of Education.
This could allow Democrats on the board to create a 7-2 majority, which would be more diversity-friendly and more likely to push for additional funding during budget season.
According to the N&O's report, Goldman appears to have been automatically removed from the board when she changed her voter registration to Wilkes County. If that's true she won't be able to vote at Tuesday's board meeting.
Here are the only details, directly from the N&O story, to emerge on Goldman's relocation:
On Friday, Goldman said she is in the process of moving to Ronda, in Wilkes County, where she appears on voter rolls and where she’ll be taking a job with a nonprofit organization. She declined to name the organization.
Goldman tells INDY Week she'll be holding a press conference Sunday at 1:00 pm at 19 W. Hargett St. Suite 512 in Raleigh.
Goldman has tried to brand herself as the board's watchdog, since Democrats regained the majority in 2011. She often asked seemingly endless strings of questions on particular subjects. INDY Week columnist Bob Geary wrote that her actions amounted to filibusters, rather than watchdogging.
Goldman was elected in 2009, when Republicans swept that year's school board elections.
On his way to Caffé Luna in Raleigh Monday night, House Majority Leader Thom Tillis and freshman members of the General Assembly seemed unfazed as they crossed paths with demonstrators who had assembled outside the eatery.
As Tillis and friends hobnobbed inside, on nearby street corners, about 15 protestors organized by Tony Ndege and the North Carolina Coalition Against Corporate Power took Tillis to task on such issues as fracking, tax reform, voter ID legislation, immigration and education and their most major pet peeve, corporate power.
In particular, protestors condemned Tillis’ cozy relationship with ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate funded ‘research group’ that writes model bills. Those bills, which heavily favoring corporate interests, are then handed off to legislators with whom they are in cahoots.
In North Carolina, some of the corporations who benefit or have benefitted in the past from ALEC include Duke Energy, Bank of America, R.J. Reynolds and GlaxoSmithKline; laws get written that favor their business activity through deregulation and relaxed accountability standards.
And according to SourceWatch.org, a good deal of North Carolina’s Legislature has ALEC ties. Take Rep. and ex-House speaker Harold Brubaker—he sits on ALEC’s Board of Directors and its International Relations task force, and has supposedly been involved with the organization since 1986. And then there’s Rep. Tim Moffitt, who’s behind the proposed state takeover of Asheville’s water infrastructure. Moffitt’s on the ALEC International Relations Task Force too.
Brubaker and Moffitt are just two of an estimated 30 legislators in North Carolina who at the very least have attended an ALEC meeting. The speaker himself is also on the International Relations Task Force, which corporations can buy into for $10,000 a year.
Give his people credit for trying—a mouthpiece for Tillis came out of the Luna Café and engaged with protestors for a few minutes. But there’s not much he could have said to that crowd in defense of the speaker, who said he felt “honored” when he was named 2011 ALEC Legislator of the Year.
Ron Rabatsky, a protestor from Charlotte, described ALEC’s advocacy for corporate interests via legislation as “devious… insidious.”
“It’s an exchange,’ he said. ‘Legislators pay to sit with corporations, who pay to sit with legislators, to write legislation together. The problem is, not enough people know about it.”
The state House and Senate reconvene on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
The Wake County school system has officially conceded that it has to do a better job educating students with disabilities who receive long-term suspensions.
Here's a partial account from Keung Hui's WakeEd blog:
In this July complaint, Advocates for Children's Services and attorney Mark Trustin had charged that Wake was failing to provide an appropriate alternative education to five students who missed 10 or more days due to suspensions in the 2011-12 school year.
Under this settlement agreement announced today, Wake will provide this summer a free, six-week program offering 60 hours of individualized services in math, literacy, reading, and social skills, via “in-person, live, direct instruction by a highly-qualified general and special education staff." This is open to any students with disabilities who received lengthy suspension in 2011-12, not just the five in the complaint.
One of ACS’ clients will receive an additional 190 hours of one-on-one, compensatory education.
Wake has also been under scrutiny in the past for its abnormally large long-term suspension rates of all students. INDY Week wrote about the issue in 2010 and provided a graph which showed Wake with nearly ten times more long-term suspensions than any of the other five largest school systems in the state.
Jason Langberg, an attorney with ACS, has long argued that long-term suspensions contribute to Wake's school-to-prison pipeline.