Currently, no municipalities or counties in North Carolina directly attempt to regulate greenhouse gases. And a bill that stalled in a Senate committee today would ensure they never do.
Senate bill 171 would block municipalities from creating any “rule or ordinance that regulates greenhouse gas emissions or limits human activity for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
While that language seems clear enough, it’s deeply unclear exactly what this bill would impact.
For instance, some municipalities have measures that regulate “energy efficiency” but don’t directly reference greenhouse gas. One such ordinance in Chapel Hill requires developers who want to rezone a building to make that building 20 percent more energy efficient.
In mid-February, Raleigh’s City Council agreed to craft measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the capital city. However, the council didn’t put a time line on creating the new rules, which aren’t yet in place.
Several other cities including Durham already encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases in the community through goals and incentives. However, they don’t make reducing greenhouse gases obligatory.
In its current langauge, the bill presumably wouldn’t effect such measures.
Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill also have internal policies that limit the use of greenhouse gases by the city governments, themselves. Chapel Hill’s is the most ambitious policy and seeks to cut the use of greenhouse gases by 60 percent by 2050.
Cities could keep those internal programs as long as they refer to them as policies, rather than a “rule or ordinance,” according to one legislative aide who has worked on the bill.
The bill stalled at the request of one of its co-sponsors, Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Johnston).
“When it comes to regulations, most think we’re overregulated to start with,” says Jackson.
But Jackson is also conflicted. While he doesn’t want to see additional greenhouse gas restrictions in North Carolina, he is wary of telling local governments what to do—a political faux pas for Republicans who claim to support small government.
North Carolina Sierra Club director Molly Diggins calls the bill in its current form “yet another anti-science, anti-local control measure.”
However, officials in Jackson’s office say the bill is likely to undergo significant changes before it reemerges in committee.
Some of the most inflammatory entries on N.C. Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack's blog—in which right-wingers posing as long-dead founding fathers take shots at their political enemies—are, as of this writing, down. The posts were among those cited in this week's story, in which Womack was outed as an author.
Those posts included sharp attacks on former Lee County blogger Keith Clark, a Womack enemy, that labeled him a "psychopathic liar," a "pitiful and desperate person," "fat," and a "freak." One post, apparently written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, includes unproven allegations that Clark faked a mental illness in order to receive disability checks.
Don't worry, you can't see them there, but you can still see them below.
In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the lawmaker who appointed Womack to the pivotal Mining and Energy Commission, has yet to comment.
"This is simple," began state Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton at a commerce committee meeting yesterday. "This country needs the energy and this state needs the jobs."
Newton, who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, is a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to begin in North Carolina in early 2015. Despite substantial opposition from environmental groups and landowners concerned about impacts on their properties, the bill is moving quickly through the legislature under the cheery alias, the Domestic Energy Jobs Act.
The new bill revamps last year's fracking measure, SB 820, by deleting a number of important regulatory safeguards. In other states, such as Pennsylvania, contamination in drinking water wells, in rivers and at wastewater treatment plants have been linked to nearby fracking operations.
For bill supporters, fracking represents an opportunity for economic growth. They anticipate the creation of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly related to the energy industry, taking cues from boom towns in North Dakota and Texas.
Newton, who asserted estimates of 15 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas underfoot, treats the bill as a message to energy companies. "North Carolina is ready to do business. We want their investment— we're ready to create jobs."
However, as INDY Week has reported, the number of jobs and amount of accessible natural gas is unknown—and highly speculative.
Opponents question whether the state's shale resources are really as "abundant" as Newton claims, which fuels skepticism on job prospects. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who opposes the bill, noted after the meeting that some estimates show fracking would produce a relatively measly 500 jobs. And it is unknown how many of those jobs would go to North Carolinians.
The regulatory changes are the most troubling aspects of the bill.
Among the changes, the bill removes the requirement for a state geologist on the Mining and Energy Commission. "N.C.'s unique geologic features are at the heart of devising a safe regulatory framework," wrote Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club, in an email.
It also removes requirements for representatives from the Environmental Management Commission and the Commission for Public Health. McKissick questioned the wisdom of eliminating representatives with expertise in air and water pollution and waste management.
Newton said the requirements presented a "conflict of interest" and are "too restrictive and too difficult" to achieve.
It’s ironic that Newton is concerned with conflicts of interest because the Mining and Energy Commission, tasked with preparing regulations for fracking, is packed with energy and fracking interests.
The bill also incorporates changes that will affect:
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?
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.
Today’s Democracy NC analysis of the 2012 election results by gender, race and age has yielded some predictable results, but also some surprises.
The predictable: A majority of voters in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties chose President Obama over Mitt Romney. The race was close in Chatham County where Obama slipped under the wire by about 1,700 votes; however, the president won decisively in Durham County, by more than 77,000 votes.
The surprise: Wake County went for Obama by about 50,000 votes, but it also had the second-highest Republican voter turnout in the state after Mecklenburg County. Wake County also cast the most ballots statewide (488,599) and saw the third-best turnout among registered voters in the state.
First place for voter turnout goes to Chatham County, where more than three-quarters of registered voters cast ballots, compared to 68.3 percent of the state total. Chatham also had the second-highest turnout of African American voters at 76.6 percent, against a statewide 70.2 percent.
Both Wake and Chatham saw the highest registered voter turnout among women, with 76.3 percent and 76.8 percent respectively, compared with a statewide turnout of 69 percent.
Women voted in greater numbers than men in every county in North Carolina, though in Chatham, white women voted at a slightly lower percentage than white men, 76.8 percent to 76.9 percent.
Overall, black women and Republican men cast ballots at the highest proportions statewide, (74.4 percent and 72.2 percent respectively). Only in Orange County did black women vote at a lower rate (73.4 percent) than the state percentage. In Durham and Orange counties, both traditional Democratic strongholds, Republican men voted below the state percentage, at 67 percent and 66.8 percent.
Wake and Chatham counties saw the highest turnouts for voters over 65 in the state. Overall, seniors voted at higher rates than any other age group. In Durham and Orange however, people ages 18 to 25 cast more ballots than seniors, though seniors outvoted them proportionally.
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.
Poor schools are getting poorer, while the rich get richer, a new study from Duke University finds.
“The average imbalance by race in North Carolina hasn’t really changed,” says Charles Clotfelter, a public policy professor who helped conduct the study. “North Carolina schools are becoming more imbalanced by economics than race. That’s something to worry about.”
It’s something to worry about because, as Clotfelter notes, schools with high percentages of low-income students find it hard to recruit and retain good teachers.
That’s a problem for low-income students, who usually perform worse on tests than their affluent peers, because highly qualified teachers have been shown to be one of the most effective tools for improving the performance of at-risk children.
Essentially, good teachers gravitate toward affluent schools, so creating high-poverty schools means setting yourself up for a dearth of good teachers in the classrooms that need them most. And, apparently, that’s what is happening across the state.
Clotfelter and a team of other researchers in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy studied all 100 counties in North Carolina going back to 1994. They found that racial balance had stabilized since the mid-2000s, which ended a trend of schools becoming more racially segregated.
Socioeconomic data showed the reverse trend. The state’s two largest school districts, Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenberg, showed a particularly sharp divide.
Since 1994, CMS schools have become economically segregated at a rate nearly four times greater than Wake.
The comparison between Wake and CMS is particularly apt, because Charlotte and Wake both used to bus students to achieve socioeconomic diversity. CMS ended its policy in 2002, which has led to more neighborhood-centric schools.
Wake's policy ended in 2010 at the hands of a Republican majority, which had just swept into power. However, the policy was still in effect in 2010-11, the last year studied by researchers.
Wake may also move back toward a diversity model now that Democrats have regained control of the Board of Education.
The researchers rated socioeconomic balance by how much individual schools' poverty percentages lined up with the countywide percentage. Free and reduced lunch was used as the indicator for socioeconomic status.
Each school district was given a number to denote its level of imbalance—the larger the number, the more economically segregated the district. CMS scored 0.38 on the scale in 2010-11, while Wake scored 0.13. In 1994-95 the school systems had a virtually identical rate of imbalance. CMS scored 0.12 and Wake scored 0.08.
Sounding the effects of diversity in the classroom often leads to mixed conclusions. Research does not conclusively indicate that socioeconomic diversity automatically leads to better performance for low-income students, who tend to perform far worse than their affluent peers.
However, diversity does lay a good groundwork for success, given that it is difficult to retain and recruit high-quality teachers in poor schools. The conservative counterargument is often to channel additional money into high-poverty schools. Research has shown this can be effective, though liberal policy advocates tend to argue that it’s unsustainable.
Vance County, which sits along the Virginia border, is the most economically segregated school district in the state, the study concludes, with a rating of 0.46. CMS was second highest with its 0.38 rating. Chatham County schools were the seventh most economically segregated district with a score of 0.29. Durham County schools tied for that spot. Orange County schools were well down the list with a score of 0.08.
Gov. Pat McCrory picks so many winners he should play the ponies.
ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, is composed of at least 300 corporations and 2,000 legislative embers and is funded in part through grants by right-wing organizations, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
Corporate members pay as much as $25,000 a year to belong to ALEC, with additional fees assessed if the members sit on one of the nine task forces. Legislators pay just $50 annually, according to the watchdog group, ALEC Exposed.
ALEC advances its agenda through “model bills,” legislation crafted by business interests and their lawmaker allies that are then introduced in multiple states.
Previous bills include opposing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, legalizing fracking, privatizing education, fighting against public health care and bans on semi-automatic firearms.
Until last year, Steen had represented Rowan County in the N.C. House of Representatives for four terms. He had higher aspirations for Congress that were quickly dashed when he placed fourth in a five-way race for U.S. House in the Eighth District.
While in the N.C. House, Steen was a primary or co-sponsor on 54 bills, including several that failed: “Protect Health Care Freedom,” which opposed Obamacare; a bill that would have allowed employees to keep loaded firearms in their cars—as long as the cars were locked, and another measure allowing persons with concealed handgun permits to bring a firearm into a restaurant.
Steen also was among the lawmakers behind successful measures such as the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which requires women to view an ultrasound of the fetus and to look at pictures and drawings of fetuses before undergoing an abortion.