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.
John Skvarla, the newly anointed Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has publicly stated that under his watch, regulations—and the relaxation thereof—will be grounded in science and fact.
In an illuminating interview with WRAL’s Laura Leslie, Skvarla failed the scientific sniff test. (The portions referenced below begin around 11:21.)
First, Skvarla insinuated that oil and gas are infinite, renewable resources. When Leslie noted that these fossil fuels are not renewable, he replied, “Some people would disagree with you. The Russians, for example, have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource … There is a lot of different scientific opinion on that.”
The abiotic theory of oil, as it’s known, holds that oil is naturally produced deep underground rather than is converted from decomposed and organic material, such as plants and prehistoric forests. Abioticians (We made up that word—why not, if you can make up science?) use this theory to support the idea that we need not wean ourselves off fossil fuels because they’ll never run out.
Creationists have latched on to the theory as way to prove the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Now Skvarla is right in that the Russians proposed this theory in the 19th century, but it has gained no legitimate, scientific consensus. That didn’t stop astronomer Thomas Gold, who revived the theory in a 1998 book.
In 2005, abiotics was explored again in Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil by Jerome Corsi and Craig R. Smith, neither of whom is a scientist.
(Corsi has a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Smith is chairman of Swiss America Trading Corporation, an investment firm specializing in U.S. gold and silver coins.)
INDY Week called Dr. John Rogers, UNC professor emeritus of geology, about abiotics. He says the idea that oil and gas are renewable resources is incorrect. “Abiotic oil is another idea that conservatives have latched onto as a way of denying that there is any limitation that the Earth places on the way we live,” Rogers says.
“The idea that there is carbon deep in the Earth is true,” he adds. “The problem is that there is very little in the deep crust in comparison to the oil that has been found and produced by decomposition.”
Rogers, who is writing a book, Rational Environmentalism, taught at UNC from 1975—1997. He says the anti-science movement has strengthened in recent years because of greed.
“If you accept the idea that the Earth puts limits on itself, you have to understand science. We can’t simply manipulate our way to wealth,” he says. “And the modern feeling is that all we have to do is adjust taxes and laws and we will be become rich.”
While we’re comparing credentials—Rogers being a geologist and Corsi being a political scientist—it should be noted that Corsi also pens columns for the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which often trafficks in conspiracy theories and misinformation. WND published the Black Gold book.
Corsi’s previous work includes two books attacking Democrats, including The Obama Nation. A bestseller, it was widely criticized for serious inaccuracies, including that Obama could claim to be a Kenyan citizen and that he was once a practicing Muslim.
Factcheck.org, which is based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, judged it to be “what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from ehre and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy. … A comprehensive review of all the false claims in Corsi's book would itself be a book,” Joe Miller wrote on the Factcheck.org website.
These are the minds from which abiotics sprang—and our new Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources is parading around a scientifically bereft theory.
But wait, there’s more.
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.
There was no white smoke flowing from Gov.-elect Pat McCrory's chimney to indicate he had selected Art Pope, one of the most powerful people in North Carolina politics, to be his new budget director. But a h/t to WRAL, which reported that the conservative millionaire will be the No. 2 man in charge of crafting the state's financial priorities.
• Higher ed? See ya. Pope and his many think tanks and foundations have long advocated for cutting funding to the state university system. (Earlier this year, Pope expanded his power base when he was named to UNC's Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions.)
• K-12? Bye-bye. Pope's campaign contributions have bankrolled the re-elections of many Republicans who want to privatize the public school system through charter schools and other sleights of hand.
• Environmental regulation and enforcement? Those efforts were chronically underfunded even during Democratic administrations. The folks at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources are probably cleaning out their desks now.
• Is there any good news? Well, unlike the bulk of his foundation and think tank operations, at least Pope's activities will now be subject to open records and open meetings laws—as long as we have them.
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.
Art Pope, already one of the most influential and wealthy political operatives in North Carolina, has further cemented his influence in the highest ranks of power.
Hat tip to WRAL, which reported that Art Pope is on Gov.-elect Pat McCrory's transition team.
Pope, a critic of public education who has funded efforts to increase the number of charter schools, was also recently named to the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, which will make recommendations about the future of the UNC system.
Read a March 2011 exposé of Art Pope written by the Indy and the Institute for Southern Studies.
We may not be in binders, but we are in ballot boxes: If trends in 2008 and 2010 elections hold, more women than men will vote in North Carolina this fall.
According to a report, "The Status of Women in North Carolina," released by the N.C. Department of Administration, in 2010 47 percent of women who were U.S. citizens, age 18 and older and reported voting in the state cast ballots. That's equivalent to 1.6 million women. In 2008, the last presidential election, 69 percent of eligible women voters—or 2.3 million—did so.
We showed the full numbers in a graph in this week's Indy. INDY-101712-5.pdf
Women currently hold a higher proportion of elected positions in the executive branch—50 percent of the 10: superintendent of public instruction, treasurer, secretary of state, labor commissioner and auditor, plus the governor.
That's the good news. The bad news is that there are fewer women being elected to the legislature. Women hold just five of 50 Senate seats and 33 of 120 House seats, ranking North Carolina in 29th place for its proportion of women in the legislature, the report states.
Bloggers, reporters and people interested in politics are invited to "How to Be an Election Watchdog," scheduled for 11 this morning in Room 339 of the Farrison-Newton Communications Building at N.C. Central University in Durham.
Learn about major voting problems that could emerge this year, how to uncover campaign donors and "shadow money" spending and the legal basis of voting rights.
The panel includes Isela Gutierrez-Hunter of Democracy North Carolina, professor Jarvis Hall of the N.C. Central Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change and Chris Kromm, Institute for Southern Studies executive director. a panel co-sponsored by the Institute for Southern Studies, the Campus Echo, the student newspaper of N.C. Central University; and Indy Week.
The $10 admission includes lunch and a packet of information and story ideas.
Change doesn't happen overnight.
That was the message from First Lady Michelle Obama, who brought the enthusiasm—and a good chunk of her passionate Democratic National Convention speech—to the campus of Durham's N.C. Central University Wednesday afternoon.
"It is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild the economy," she said.
Wednesday's stump speech, the first of two North Carolina stops Wednesday with a second planned later in Greenville, seemed geared to contrast her husband, President Barack Obama, and GOP rival Mitt Romney, particularly on the subject of financial assistance for college students.
The first lady's introduction Wednesday was delivered by NCCU senior Korey Mercer, a political science student who said he used federal Pell Grant funding to lessen his college costs.
President Obama has doubled Pell Grant funding in his first four years, the first lady said, inciting loud cheers from the thousands of rally-goers, many of them NCCU students.
Obama supporters are seeking to ignite the base of young voters who helped the president to a slim 14,000-vote victory in North Carolina in 2008.
Under fire for a still-middling economy and a host of 2008 campaign promises that have yet to materialize, Obama's campaign has sought to turn the attention to what the president has accomplished in the last four years.
That includes legislation aimed at leveling the gender gap in workplace pay; ending the war in Iraq; killing Osama bin Laden; righting a foundering American auto industry; and, of course, healthcare reform. Each was mentioned in Wednesday's speech by the first lady.
"Barack didn't care that health reform was the easy thing to do, he cared that it was the right thing to do," she said.
Wednesday's rally is one of the first since Romney's controversial remarks at a Florida fundraiser surfaced this week, in which the GOP nominee took a swipe at the president's backers as government-dependent, tax-dodgers.
The first lady did not comment on Romney's words Wednesday, but characterized her husband as a man in touch with the needs of average Americans.
"When you've worked hard and done well, you do not slam that door of opportunity shut behind you, you hold it open for others," she said. "... No one gets where we are on our own."
She also hailed her husband as a man of great character.
"I've seen how important it is to have a president who doesn't just tell us what we want to hear," she said. "He tells us the truth."
Obama backers used much of the afternoon to urge attendees to get active in the campaign. The Obama campaign's get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 has been credited for his success.
When I learned that Americans for Prosperity was hosting a cocktail party honoring Art Pope and David Koch during the Republican National Convention, it seemed like a natural event for me to cover. I used to write about Pope for the Independent, back when he was a state legislator from Raleigh and often the smartest (and nerdiest) Republican in the room.
Since then, Pope has made a national name for himself by working committedly to move the American political landscape to the right. Along with his family and its organizations, Pope has spent tens of millions of dollars on conservative causes, including efforts to weaken unions, relax environmental standards, and fight limits on campaign spending.
Pope has been credited with engineering the GOP takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010. As the Independent Weekly and the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies have documented, this was accomplished in large part by attack-ad blitzes in a handful of key districts.
Republicans now control both chambers of the legislature for the first time since 1870. This new majority is responsible for the anti-gay Amendment 1, attacks on sea-level science, deep cuts to public education, and a green light for fracking.
But Pope’s national visibility comes primarily from his chairmanship of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a nonprofit that advocates for deregulation, low taxes and cuts in government spending. Co-founded by David Koch, an oil billionaire, APF is often cited as the behemoth behind the tea party movement. Pope and Koch are friends, and this week they were both delegates at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Yesterday’s reception was free and open to the public. Advance registration was required. Before the convention, I registered online. I heard nothing back. Figuring my name was probably on someone’s list, I decided to show up.
I wasn’t, in fact, on anyone’s list.
Nor was I alone. Arriving at the same time was Keenan Steiner, a staff writer with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes transparency in government information. Steiner was hoping that attending the event would offer a rare glimpse of Koch in action.
“He’s the most important individual behind the Republican outside-money machine,” Steiner told me. “He and his friends are pledging to raise $400 million to help elect Republicans. He’s very secretive with the media. The public knows very little about him.”
Knowing who has access to Koch during the convention is important, the writer said: “Journalists should be interested in following him wherever he’s going.”
Steiner had successfully registered for the reception as a member of the public. The invitation was rescinded after he wrote an Aug. 17 blog post about AFP’s plans to spend $25 million on a media campaign criticizing President Obama. Steiner reported that AFP had spent $6.4 million in a single week’s advertising, including $741,030 in North Carolina. He based this on a document AFP filed with the Federal Election Commission, then amended five days later with the state-by-state details deleted. Steiner wrote that AFP had “accidentally” filed an initial document that was more specific than the law required.
After he posted his article, Steiner received a message from AFP’s director of public affairs, Levi Russell, rescinding his invitation. “Based on recent experience,“ Russell wrote, “you’re willing to write articles that are filled with inaccuracies, and not interested in making corrections.” Contrary to the blog post, Russell insisted, the initial filing was not a mistake.
Russell told Steiner to reapply as a reporter. His application was not approved.