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?
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.
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.
You might have seen this one coming.
Chapel Hill Town Council members on Wednesday tapped former (well, not anymore) Councilwoman Sally Greene to fill the panel's vacant seat. The seat has been open since Penny Rich departed to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners last month.
Greene seemed the frontrunner coming into Wednesday's meeting. She was a popular councilwoman from 2003 until 2011, when she stepped down reportedly to focus on her work at UNC's Center for the Study of the American South.
Town leaders were also expected to be under pressure to appoint a woman to replace Rich, because Rich's departure left only two women, Laurin Easthom and Donna Bell, on the nine-member council.
George Cianciolo, a Duke University associate research professor who co-chaired development of Chapel Hill 2020, initially seemed the favorite when he announced his interest last year. But Cianciolo bowed out and threw his support behind the former councilwoman in November when Greene indicated she would apply for the seat.
Greene was one of 11 seeking the vacant seat. In her application, Greene said she would focus on affordable housing, the public library and local homelessness. Read her application in full here.
Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina who have been granted a special status by the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a state driver's license if they have proper legal documentation. This is according to a opinion issued today from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.
You can read the opinion here: AG_letter_to_DMV.pdf
Cooper issued his opinion after the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles announced earlier this week it would cancel driver's licenses issued to 13 undocumented immigrants who are legally in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
In September 2012, then-DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson had asked the attorney general's office to weigh in on whether undocumented immigrants who had been approved under DACA could be issued driver's licenses.
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.
These immigrants must meet certain criteria: They have to be younger than 30, have graduated from high school or are currently in school or be an honorably discharged veteran, and can't have been convicted of any serious criminal offense.
Individuals approved for this status can apply for a Social Security card and can be legally employed in the U.S.
In his opinion issued today, Cooper wrote that while these immigrants don't have legal "status," they are lawfully present. Thus, the DMV must issue a driver's license "of limited duration," to this group of immigrants who have valid documentation and meet other legal requirements.
INDY Week could not immediately reach a spokesman for the N.C. DMV. Check back for updates.
The Latin American Coalition, based in Charlotte, issued a statement from its executive director, Jess George:
"We are very happy that the North Carolina Attorney General's office has decided on a common sense solution for our state. This decision continues to move North Carolina in a positive direction and provides a shining example of how access and opportunity benefits all of our communities and the state as a whole."
The coalition is demanding that the DMV immediately reinstate the licenses it had issued and cancelled—and that it begin issuing licenses to DACA recipients.
If you enjoy reading instruction manuals, chances are Friday's webinar report on a long-awaited fracking study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a hoot.
EPA scientist Jeanne Briskin, who is helping to lead the study, explained the multi-pronged approach the agency is taking to tackle fracking, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, that's when the EPA expects to issue its draft report on the environmental impacts of the controversial drilling method.
The EPA study is expected to focus on fracking's effect on groundwater, water supply and wastewater treatment. All are key issues considering the widespread reports blaming fracking for water pollution in U.S. states that already allow the drilling.
Briskin said EPA research projects include analysis of fracking chemicals (dutifully listed on FracFocus' online registry of chemicals), spills, water-use scenarios and wastewater treatment. Work is also underway to develop methods for identifying the source of water contamination, vital if environmentalists are to concretely link the drilling to pollution reports.
EPA case studies of drinking water impacts are ongoing in fracking states, such as Colorado, North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania, Briskin said.
Additionally, EPA officials are planning five "technical roundtables" on fracking in 2013, starting with a Feb. 25 session on analytical chemical methods in the Triangle, according to Briskin. In April, expect roundtables on well operations and wastewater treatment, followed by meets on water acquisition and case studies in June.
After the release of its 2014 draft report, there will be a period for a science peer review, after which the agency will issue its final report, Briskin said.
In the meantime, the Indy will keep tabs on the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, the group charged with readying fracking regulations. The group next meets Jan. 24-25.
Those looking for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) final word on fracking impacts will have to wait—at least until 2014.
But the EPA is hosting webinars today and tomorrow to provide a progress report on the ongoing study. By this morning, all slots were filled for today's 2 p.m. webinar, although spots remained for Friday's noon session. Register here.
According to the EPA, the webinar is going to offer updates on the study's approach and status, as well as five technical roundables held in Nov. 2012.
EPA officials say the purpose of the Congress-requested study will be to "assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, if any, and to identify the driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of such impacts."
Research will key on drinking water impacts, the impacts of fracking chemicals and fracking wastewater.
The controversial drilling practice, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014, has been dogged by reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts, such as increased seismic activity in fracking regions. Proponents, however, say the drilling will be a boon to the state's lagging economy.
Follow the ongoing work of the state's Mining and Energy Commission here. The commission and its various committees will next meet Jan. 24-25 in Raleigh.
A much-anticipated civil rights lawsuit for Alamance County's embattled sheriff is upon us.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice said it has officially filed a civil suit against Sheriff Terry Johnson, three months after accusing Johnson's office of racially profiling Latinos.
Following a two-year investigation of Johnson's office, DOJ officials alleged in September that Alamance deputies target Latinos for traffic stops, install checkpoints in Latino neighborhoods and vary enforcement activity based on a driver's ethnicity.
The DOJ statement came weeks after an Indy analysis of traffic stop data found Latinos were twice as likely as non-Latinos to be arrested during traffic stops, a key finding because—under Alamance's now stripped 287(g) partnership with federal customs officials—Alamance deputies could spur deportations upon arrest.
“This is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff who misuses his position of authority to unlawfully target Latinos in Alamance County,” said Thomas E. Perez, DOJ Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement Thursday. “Sheriff Johnson’s directives and leadership have caused ACSO to violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in Alamance County and eroded public trust in ACSO.”
In the release, the DOJ said Alamance "declined to enter into meaningful settlement negotiations" after the September allegations.
The DOJ goes on to say that Johnson's tactics violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Johnson's office has long maintained that there is no evidence of profiling in Alamance.
Thus far, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission's meetings have been primarily organizational in nature, with members debating such things as pre-meeting prayers and committee assignments.
But commission Chair Jim Womack told members of the N.C. General Assembly's Environmental Review Commission Thursday morning that the group expects its first "substantive" discussion of fracking regulations next week.
"It'll be the first time that we actually start tackling the issues," Womack said.
The mining commission includes drilling industry reps, geologists, a handful of conservationists and local government leaders like Womack—a county commissioner in the likely drilling hub of Lee County. The commission was created when lawmakers voted in July to begin the controversial drilling practice as soon as 2014. In the meantime, Womack's commission is charged with building a regulatory framework.
Proponents say fracking will bolster the state's lagging economy with jobs and cash while providing a cache of locally-grown energy. Critics, however, note many reports of environmental pollution and increased seismic activity blamed on the drilling in other states.
The commission has split into six committees focusing on topics such as mining, civil penalties, environmental standards and water and waste management. The panel has also enlisted three study groups to discuss funding sources, local government regulatory powers and compulsory pooling.
The latter subject is an especially touchy one for many fracking opponents, who point out holdout landowners can be forced to ink gas leasing agreements if the bulk of their neighbors have already done so.
Womack said Thursday that the 15-member commission of appointees would likely meet at least once every six weeks. He acknowledged the transition from outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue to Gov.-elect Pat McCrory could spur turnover for some members of the commission.
"We haven't wedded ourselves to those personalities," Womack said.
Womack also made his pitch to lawmakers for more than $500,000 in funding for the commission to cover operating expenses, travel and staff pay.
Next week's meeting of the Mining and Energy Commission is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Raleigh's Archdale Building on North Salisbury Street.