"Don't watch Gasland 2 alone," says Josh Fox. "It's too scary, kind of like Psycho. You'll never take a shower the same way again."
Fox isn't kidding. His much-anticipated, anti-fracking sequel screened at Durham's Carolina Theatre Monday night, with many of its otherwise sterile interviews darkened with a chilling horror movie score. There's even a scene in which Fox's beloved Delaware River Basin near his Pennsylvania home is besieged by CGI gas wells as if they're asteroids from on high. Where's Morgan Freeman when you need him?
Subtlety may not be Fox's trademark, but if he's going for shock and awe, he nails it. His sequel, which originally premiered on HBO this summer, continues to document the ongoing political turmoil over natural gas drilling. Both Republicans and Democrats, particularly President Obama's administration, take their lumps from Fox in the film.
Supporters tout fracking as a relatively clean drilling method that can reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents see only disaster, noting the widespread reports of water and air contamination, as well as increased seismic activity. North Carolina Republicans side with the former, with hopes of permitting drilling as soon as 2015.
Fox's 2010 film was nominated for an Academy Award for "best documentary feature," even though industry types besmirched it as little more than environmentalist propaganda. He received a hero's welcome at last night's screening, which was organized by anti-fracking protestors from Clean Water for N.C. and Wilmington's Working Films Reel Power.
Clean Water Director Hope Taylor estimated 500 people attended the film, which included a Q&A session with the Pennsylvania-bred filmmaker immediately following the screening.
Of the interesting moments, Fox said he could not sleep for weeks after he was originally approached to consider natural gas drilling on his Pennsylvania land. "It was one of the most lonely and terrifying and isolating things," he said.
Meanwhile, Fox urged the protesters in attendance to continue their opposition, noting grassroots groups to stop the drilling have launched all over the country and the world. "You're a part of a movement," he said.
In case there isn't enough negative publicity surrounding fracking, left-leaning nonprofit Environment North Carolina released its own report on the controversial drilling practice Thursday, dubbing the drilling an "environmental nightmare."
"In state after state, fracking polluted our air, water and landscapes," said Liz Kazal, a field associate for the Raleigh-based nonprofit. "If fracking is allowed in North Carolina, this is the kind of damage in store for waters like the Deep River."
The drilling, viewed as an economic boon by proponents despite its speculative job-creating numbers, has been dogged by claims that it's responsible for water and air pollution, as well as increased seismic activity. See a recent report that fracking wastewater is to blame for earthquakes in one Ohio town.
Environment North Carolina, which has long opposed the drilling, describes the report from its Research and Policy Center as the "first of its kind to measure the footprint of fracking damage nationally to date—including toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions."
Among the report's claims, the nonprofit says fracking is to blame for:
1. 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012
2. 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year
3. 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005
4. 360,000 acres of land "degraded" since 2005
5. 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution.
Download Environment North Carolina's full report, which reads like a Stephen King novel for environmentalists, here.
State officials are currently crafting regulations for drilling in North Carolina, which could begin as soon as 2015.Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, gets in on the frack-bashing in Environment North Carolina's release. "The dangers detailed in this report reiterate that a few short months of energy are simply not worth jeopardizing our water, our air and our rural landscapes," Woodard said. "In short, fracking is a bad deal for Durham and for North Carolina."
Official estimates say North Carolina has enough gas to power the state for about five years. Drilling is most likely to take place in central portions of the state such as Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.
Check back with Indy Week for pending reactions from drilling supporters and opponents.
Tsk, tsk, Thom.
The Carolina Mercury's Kirk Ross posted a fascinating story about the fundraising habits of House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is courting donors for 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.
As Ross notes, state lawmakers can't accept contributions for their state offices during a legislative session but they can raise money for federal offices, which is precisely what Tillis did—in the midst of the budget debate. Legal? Yes. Hinky? Also yes.
Ross names some big contributors to Tillis' Senate race, including DENR Secretary John Skvarla and several House members, Pat McElraft, Tim Moore and Chuck McGrady, according to federal election documents.
The INDY perused the documents as well and recognized the name of Raleigh attorney Tom Farr ($500). He is notable for his expertise in legislative apportionment and voting rights cases—on the side of Republicans—as the INDY's Bob Geary reported in January 2010.
In 2010, Farr was hired by the Republican majority of the Wake County school board, which at the time was under fire for drawing up new school assignment zones that faced a potential legal challenge by the NAACP.
Geary wrote: "Farr was lead counsel for some of the plaintiffs in Shaw v. Hunt, the 1990s case that landed North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decade later, Farr represented the plaintiffs who overthrew a state legislative districting scheme in the N.C. Supreme Court.
"Drawing up districts, and defending them against challenges of racial bias under the federal Voting Rights Act, would be right up his alley."
And whaddya know? HB 589—the ominbus election reform bill deemed repressive, draconian and extreme by legal experts, political media and "regressive" by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper—completely upended all notions of fair and equal voting protocols in North Carolina.
Tillis voted for HB 589.
Ross noted that two contributors, the National Finance Company, based in Little River, S.C., which is near the N.C border, gave $1,000; Century Finances' Ronald Smith kicked in $500.
That's important because Senate Bill 489 gave big breaks to the consumer finance industry, allowing it to raise the maximum loan amounts and the time limits of the loans. In other words, borrowers will have to pay more and for longer. Tillis voted for it.
Another prominent name in the news includes Julian White Rawl ($1,000) of Preston Development, which is trying to build a controversial 7,000-acre mixed use development, Chatham Park, near Pittsboro.
Sometimes a plate of cookies is not a plate of cookies, Gov. McCrory. Ask Blanche Taylor Moore.
There was plenty of outrage over McCrory's hollow—and sexist—gesture of handing a plate of cookies to women who were protesting in Raleigh over his signing of the abortion bill. But the Guv was only continuing a tradition of North Carolinians who hide agendas among the chocolate chips.
The bodies of her father, mother-in-law and first husband were exhumed and tests showed they suffered from arsenic poisoning. Although she faced an additional murder charges, the prosecution chose not to pursue those cases.
A made-for-TV movie, Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story, aired in 1993. It starred starring Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched fame.
Hat tip: Robb Kehoe
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department intends to sue states to prevent them from enacting parts of new voting rights laws, including requiring specific forms of photo identification.
North Carolina could be one of those states if House Bill 589 becomes law.
All but one of the Triangle’s U.S. House members voted against a measure that would have curbed the National Security Agency's collection of telephone call records and data on people in the U.S.
The vote margin was narrow, 217—205 with the majority of House members rejecting a check on NSA's surveillance program. Among those in the majority were Republicans George Holding and Renee Ellmers and Democrats David Price and G.K. Butterfield.
Howard Coble, who represents the 6th District that includes parts of Durham and Orange Counties, did not vote. He is in a Washington, D.C. hospital recovering from hernia surgery.
Politico has an interesting analysis of how dissent over the spying program split both parties. Those in favor of curbing NSA’s power argue that it has overstepped its constitutional boundaries and is tantamount to domestic spying. Those against counter that the intrusions are necessary to fight terrorism.
Hands off your keyboards, North Carolina Republicans.
First Gov. Pat McCrory responded to a scathing New York Times editorial, published July 9, that criticized the Republican-dominated state legislature for the "grotesque damage" it is wreaking on North Carolina.
Now the N.C. GOP Chairman Claude Pope, a close friend of McCrory, has chimed in, penning open letter to the NYT editorial board.
It begins: "Thank you, New York Times. We southern hillbillies are always honored when the Old Gray Lady’s beacons of intelligence bestow their political wisdom from on high."
And it heads downhill—or is it down hillbilly?—from there.
"Why else would you be so serious about leaving the unemployed stuck in poverty, instead of helping them climb out of it by creating new jobs?" Pope writes.
Could these be the same unemployed people whose benefits were reduced or eliminated thanks to state Republicans?
He cites the state's "horrendous" high school drop out rates. Did Pope see that the rate hit a record low in 2011—2012?
And the double-digit unemployment Pope references was the byproduct of the 2008 Great Recession, during which 19 states, including North Carolina, recorded jobless rates of higher than 10 percent. But by January 2013, before the state GOP could really sink its teeth in, no states—not even the hillbilly Tar Heels—hit that threshold.
Pope rebutted the Times' contention that voter ID laws are being “rushed” through. They "have actually been in the works since January," Pope wrote. Yes, it's taken a long seven months to move one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation that could damage electoral democracy for years, even decades.
And he complained that the Times hasn't endorsed a Republican presidential candidate since Eisenhower in 1956. That means the newspaper did not endorse Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Bush I and II, John McCain and Mitt Romney, none of whom met the Times' "elite editorial standards."
Millions of animals in factory farms live in horrific conditions, and a bill in the N.C. Legislature would make it harder to uncover abuse.
The NC Commerce Protection Act of 2013, among else, would create penalties for employment fraud. However, section one of the Senate Bill 648 is better known under some of its other names: an ag-gag bill and a whistleblower suppression bill. The measure targets people who go undercover to expose animal cruelty or food safety issues on farms across the state.
The bill comes after a 2012 undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina that revealed workers beating birds with metal rods, stomping, kicking them and violently throwing them into cages. Widespread media reports show that many animals on industrialized farms —chickens, cows, pigs—spend their whole lives, prior to being slaughtered, confined in crowded cages or barns—far from the “cows grazing on fields of green grass” image that big businesses present.
After several committee hearings and changes, SB 648 still would outlaw making false statements on a job application in order to conduct undercover investigations. It would be a criminal offense, punishable by a minimum fine of $10,000 for a first conviction. All recorded material should be handed to law enforcement and not be distributed anywhere else. Instead of having the initial 24 hours to turn over evidence, the bill was tweaked to extend that time to 48 hours, which still raises constitutional issues. If you surrender the evidence, you may incriminate yourself, a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, Johnston and Sampson counties, is a farmer and agribusinessman—the very industry under fire by these investigations. He explained that the new changes assure news media would not be prosecuted if they were to air footage obtained by an undercover investigator.
At the latest committee hearing on Tuesday, Matthew Dominguez, public policy manager of the Humane Society of the United States, warned that “if this bill is to pass in North Carolina, you are making a safe haven for unethical and illegal activity, you are going to see unscrupulous business practice happen and the reason it's going to happen is because there will be no way to blow the whistle on it. And that's exactly what the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and the poultry industry want.”
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, used the 1992 Food Lion case as an example of why the bill is needed. Two reporters gone undercover as store employees documented workers repackaging spoiled meat—some of it chewed on by rats—for public consumption. Food Lion sued for fraud and trespass, and won, claiming the two reporters had submitted false information on their job applications.
A few other senators did question parts of Section 1, including Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. “To limit what somebody could do with a videotape, not having anything to do with a trade secret, sounds unconstitutional. But you all haven't had a problem with passing unconstitutional bills in the past,” he said.
The bill still must pass the House and Senate before it can go to Gov. Pat McCrory for ratification.
The North Carolina Senate doesn’t have a Wendy Davis.
What it did have Wednesday morning was a gallery full of 500 people wearing pink, watching quietly as Senators rammed through an omnibus abortion bill, which may lead to the closure of abortion clinics across the state.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, who, along with his fellow Democratic Senators, is outnumbered 33-17 by Republicans, told Republicans that they are inviting a firestorm of protest by forcing the legislation through. If it were allowed to filibuster in the N.C. Senate, he probably would have.
The legislation would force abortion providers to have “transfer agreements” with a hospital in order to operate. Other news outlets have reported only one abortion provider in North Carolina has such an agreement.
It would also require them to be licensed the same as ambulatory surgical centers and would require a doctor to be present for the entirety of the abortion process. It's unclear how this would effect "medical" abortions, which consists of taking prescription drugs that work over a period of days.
#ncga Stein on abortion debate: "A medical abortion — one using medication - is five times safer than Viagra." #ncpol
— WRAL Gov't Coverage (@NCCapitol) July 3, 2013
The net effect of such measures, at best, forces abortion providers to jump through an significant amount of regulatory hoops. At worst, it will lead some to shut down.
The bill now heads to the House for approval.
Even Gov. Pat McCrory, who has been awkwardly stuck between the slightly more moderate House and the extremely conservative Senate, is criticizing the Senate’s move.
"When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business," a press release quoted him as saying. "It was not right then and it is not right now. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."
McCrory did not make any indication of whether or not he would veto the legislation.
Each time I’ve covered recent General Assembly protests, I meet people who say they were on the fence about coming out to protest. Today was no different. The first five women I interviewed told me they don’t normally do this kind of thing.
"I almost came last Monday," said Oami Powers, "but I own my own business and I just got really busy. Then last night when they rammed this through I just got so angry. I decided to make time. I moved here three years ago and I love it here. My biggest feeling right now is disappointment.'
Once the 29-12 vote took place, one woman was arrested and shouts of "shame on you" came from the gallery, before it was cleared by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
Thank you #prochoice #nc for turning out this morning #ncpol #standwithncwomen #hb695 pic.twitter.com/JEddlE8J5a
— NARAL Pro-Choice NC (@NARALNC) July 3, 2013
Some protesters stayed outside throughout the protest and remain outside the legislative building. Another protest, “Witness Wednesday,” will take place after a 2 p.m. press conference inside the legislative building.
Huge protest moving forward. #StandWithNCWomen #ncpol #ncga pic.twitter.com/FkfVjkVdcQ
— YDNC (@ydnc) July 3, 2013
Some protesters are apparently working on a bat signal, which beams a pink tennis shoe into the sky, in hopes of getting Davis' attention.