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News we're keeping an eye on: "Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future," fracking, N.C. Mining and Energy Commission; UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, N.C. Student Power Union, Art Pope, Thom Tillis

Membership has its privileges 

Mining and Energy Commission meeting Friday

At a daylong conference Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future, State Rep. Chuck McGrady criticized both opponents and supporters of fracking for "not paying attention to the facts."

While the Henderson County Republican alleged the environmental concerns are overblown (an opinion formed after speaking with regulators, including those in notably lax Pennsylvania), he also noted that fracking boosters erroneously believe natural gas revenues "are going to solve all of the state's economic problems."

"The price of natural gas is at an all-time low," said McGrady, who voted against the fracking bill, SB 820. "We don't have the amount of natural gas as other states—and other states have too much natural gas. Why would someone come to North Carolina?"

Did the state's Mining and Energy Commission get the memo? SB 820, vetoed by the governor and nonetheless succumbed to a Republican-led override, created the commission to establish an oil and gas industry in North Carolina; unsurprisingly, the commission is loaded with fossil fuel and fracking interests.

Considering how the deck is stacked, it remains to be seen if the group can fulfill its mission of protecting "public health and safety, public and private property" and conserving the state's "air, water and other natural resources."

Keep an eye on the commission as it meets Friday, Sept. 28, at 10 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building (behind the main Legislative Building on Jones Street).

Dozens of mind-numbing bureaucratic meetings happen at the University of North Carolina every week, and most of them go unnoticed. But when über-conservative millionaire and political operative Art Pope is on a university board, well, you might want to arrange additional seating.

Earlier this month, Pope—who, through campaign contributions and his many thinktanks and foundations, has bankrolled efforts to undercut public education—was appointed by UNC system President Tom Ross to the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions. The committee's duty over the next three months is to recommend a course of action for the 17-campus system through 2018: its academic standards, financial planning and overarching mission, its reason for being.

(The committee met at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, before the Indy hit the stands. Check our Triangulator blog for coverage.)

A student group, North Carolina Student Power Union, sent a letter to Ross and the committee members expressing concerns about the "agenda that will be pursued by many of those on the committee," in particular, Pope and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis.

As the Indy reported last week, the committee's membership includes not only Pope but other powerful Republican interests such as pharmaceutical bigwigs Fred Eshelman and Robert Ingram, who aren't afraid to throw their money around to achieve a political agenda.

In its letter, the Student Power Union asked Ross to remove from the committee "those who have well-documented connections to organizations that oppose public education."

The group is also asking the committee to include "meaningful student, faculty and staff representation" and to hold regular, official town-hall meetings across the state to gather public input.

The committee is scheduled to finish its work in January. The Student Power Union is asking the committee to extend its timeframe in order to receive additional input.

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