As expected, fast-track fracking legislation, Senate Bill 76, passed the House Commerce and Job Development Committee Wednesday morning, although with several notable departures from the version passed by Senate leaders in February.
Those differences, according to fracking opponent and Environment N.C. Director Elizabeth Ouzts, include stripping the legislation of language allowing the injection of fracking waste underground. The House version also removes a provision booting environmental and geological experts from the regulatory Mining and Energy Commission, the panel tasked with preparing the state's regulatory structure for drilling.
The bill's key point—authorizing the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue fracking permits in March 2015—remains, although with the addendum that permits will require another legislative vote for them to take effect, Ouzts said.
"It is much better than the Senate version," Ouzts said. "But it is still bad for water quality, and it breaks the promise that the legislature made last year that they would allow the Mining and Energy Commission to develop rules before setting a date for permits to be issued."
Senate Bill 76 now heads for the House Environment Committee. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Republicans Buck Newton, Bob Rucho and Andrew Brock. All three senators received substantial campaign contributions from energy companies in recent years.
For the liberals out there: Rachel Maddow—the oh-so-sharp host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show"—has heard your cries.
On Thursday's show, Maddow panned the ominously-numbered Senate Bill 666, a measure that—for all intents and purposes—appears geared to curb North Carolina's college vote. In case you don't remember, college students made up a key demographic in North Carolina's Democratic election victories of 2008.
The Maddow gem from Thursday's broadcast?
"Do yourself a favor and go set your Google news alert to North Carolina Republicans. They have completely unchecked power right now, and their ideas about how to use that power are, as the political scientists say, rather amazeballs."
For people who don't know what "amazeballs" means, it's a trendy way of saying something is amazing.
The legislation, filed last week by eastern North Carolina Republican Bill Cook, strips tax deductions from parents of college students who choose to vote where they go to school. The measure also requires voters to register in the same county where their vehicles are registered, another shot at college students who retain vehicle registration in their home counties.
Watch Maddow's comments here:
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.
Generally speaking, vice presidential candidates are thought of as the presidential ticket's attack dog.
GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, controversial architect of deficit-reducing federal budget plans, was just that when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh Wednesday, taking shots at President Obama on the economy, healthcare and Medicare. His stop comes days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tapped the Ayn Rand devotee as his running mate.
"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan told a crowd of several thousand fired-up conservatives—mostly white, mostly graying—at the Raleigh facility of sheet-metal fabrication company SMT. "Here's the problem, he's made things much worse."
Ryan used the afternoon stop in the Tar Heel state, one of many key swing states in the upcoming presidential election, to highlight the differences between the Romney and Obama camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.
Most North Carolina polls, aside from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, show the GOP nominee holding an ever-so-slim lead on Obama prior to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.
Catch the full story of Wednesday's Ryan rally in next week's Indy.
To frack or not to frack, this is the question for N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue. The lame-duck governor could ultimately be the one who decides the state's fracking future.
Not surprisingly, the N.C. House of Representatives gave its approval of fracking Thursday, although drilling opponents are likely to see opportunity in the 66-43 vote, which largely fell on party lines. Republicans will need at least six more votes to override a gubernatorial veto should Perdue use that power in the next 10 days.
Supporters say the natural gas drilling would be a boon for a lagging economy, bringing hundreds of jobs and cash. Opponents point to numerous reports of fracking spills and environmental headaches in other states.
The unpopular governor, who announced in January that she would not be seeking a second term in 2012, has been difficult to pin down on this issue.
Perdue prompted some environmental angst in March when she said fracking can be done safely after an industry-guided tour of a drilling operation in Pennsylvania.
It remains to be seen, however, if she would side with state Republicans on Senate Bill 820, the measure that opens the door to legalizing the drilling in a few years after state officials build a regulatory structure.
The governor's office had little to say on the subject Friday. "She will review the bill when it gets to her desk," said Mark Johnson, deputy communications director for the governor's office. "That's our only statement at this time."
Many state Democrats have blasted GOP-steered fracking legislation as ushering in drilling too quickly, and leaving broad powers to a regulatory mining commission where the majority have a direct stake in the industry or have drilling experience.
Critics are also quick to note that, based on low natural gas prices and the state's very modest supply of the resource, drilling isn't likely to happen in North Carolina in the next decade regardless of whether lawmakers legalize the controversial technique.
"Unfortunately, the legislature seems committed to moving forward with fracking without getting essential questions answered about the potential impact on our water resources," said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, in a statement Friday. "There's too much at stake to make a risky bet like this. The public deserves better."
The House version of the fracking bill that passed Thursday includes some divergence from the Senate bill, including the addition of two local government officials to the mining commission and additional consumer protections. It seems likely that Senate and House conservatives will manage to reconcile the differences in a matter of days.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are asking fracking opponents to contact the governor and urge her to veto the legislation.
Activists with Occupy Raleigh are planning a protest at the governor's mansion at 6 p.m. Monday to call for a veto.
An N.C. State University professor who wants to start a new charter school in Raleigh was arrested earlier this month for failing to appear in court on earlier charges.
Kenan Gundogdu, 34, has applied to start the Triangle Math and Science Academy, which would be a spinoff of the Triad Math and Science Academy in Greensboro. The physics professor serves on the Greensboro school's board.
According to court records, a Raleigh police officer cited Gundogdu on Dec. 3, 2011, for driving without insurance and for driving with a canceled, revoked or suspended tag. Raleigh police later arrested Gundogdu, who lives in Cary, for failing to appear in court, a misdemeanor. He was released from the Wake County jail on $500 bail, a spokeswoman said.
Gundogdu is scheduled to appear in court March 19, according to court records.
Gundogdu has been the lead applicant in three attempts to start the science-and-math-focused charter school in Raleigh. His two previous applications were not approved during the time when the state had a cap on the number of charter schools.
Once the state lifted the cap on charters last year, Gundogdu applied again under the "fast-track" process. The State Board of Education is scheduled to approve a list of "fast-track" applications on Feb. 29 and March 1. If approved, the schools could open in fall 2012.
Applicants have told state officials that they're eying the former Exploris Middle School in downtown Raleigh as a possible site for the K-6 school with 270 students the first year.
Gundogdu couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Erskine Bowles announced today that he won’t run for governor.
The former UNC-system president who served as chief of staff in the Clinton Administration and twice ran for U.S. Senate and said there are other ways besides serving in Raleigh to make a difference.
Bowles’s name recognition and status as a successful investment banker and co-chairman of a President Obama’s bipartisan budget deficit commission made him an obvious choice for the position once Gov. Bev Perdue made her announcement last week that she won’t seek a second term.
In a poll released earlier this week, Public Policy Polling found Bowles as the most likely Democrat to defeat Republican hopeful Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who Perdue beat in 2008.
N.C. House Rep. Bill Faison, D-Caswell, Orange, and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton are the only two candidates to jump in the raise so far, though a gaggle of contenders were waiting to see what Bowles would do before making their intentions known.
Dalton released a statement offering his respect and admiration for Bowles.
“We’ve worked together throughout the years on many issues and he’s a true public servant,” it reads. “I feel confident he will remain an influential voice in state and national policy.”
This blog entry and headline have been updated since they were originally posted.
The Durham City Council will swear in Mayor Bill Bell and three recently elected members tonight, beginning with a 6 p.m. reception outside the council chambers. Incumbents Bell, Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti were re-elected on Nov. 8 and will each begin new terms today. Newcomer Steve Schewel, who is the majority owner of the Independent Weekly, will also take his seat at the 7 p.m. meeting, replacing Farad Ali, who chose not to run for re-election after one term.
In Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt will be sworn in for his second term as mayor at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Town council incumbents Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski and Jim Ward were all re-elected last month and will take the oath of office tonight, as well as Lee Storrow, who at 22 will be the council's youngest member, and the youngest elected leader in North Carolina.
In Raleigh, the City Council will also hold a swearing in at 7 p.m. Mayor-Elect Nancy McFarlane will replace outgoing Mayor Charles Meeker. The eight-member council has one new face, Randy Stagner, who replaces McFarlane in District A. The remaining members being sworn in are all incumbents: John Odom, Eugene Weeks, Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, Russ Stephenson and Mary-Ann Baldwin.
In Carrboro, Mayor Mark Chilton will be sworn into his fourth and final term at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Board of Aldermen incumbents Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle and newcomer Michelle Johnson will also take the oath. Johnson replaces Joal Hall Broun, who opted not to run for re-election after serving three terms.
From Intern Jason Lee
The People of Faith Against the Death Penalty will begin a new major grassroots campaign Friday aimed at getting hundreds of resolutions in support from religious, business, community groups and local governments.
The Kairos Campaign, named after the Greek word meaning “special time,” will begin at 10 a.m. at Martin Street Baptist Church, 1001 E. Martin St., Raleigh. Eleven religious leaders from around the state will speak in support of ending the death penalty in North Carolina.
PFADP’s first major campaign began in 1999, and fought for a moratorium on the death penalty. The 10 year effort saw a number of reforms — including the Racial Justice Act, repealed by the legislature on Monday — but was ultimately unsuccessful in a moratorium. Now, says PFADP executive director Stephen Dear, the “tide is turning,” both nationally and in-state, against the death penalty, enough to call for its outright repeal.
State education officials are reviewing 27 applications for new charter schools across the state, including two in Durham County, two in Wake County and one in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district.
A new state law passed this year raised the limit on charter schools in North Carolina, which previously had been capped at 100. The applications were due last Thursday, and will be reviewed by the N.C. Public Charter School Advisory Council (CSAC) before being submitted to the State Board of Education.
The applicants are aiming to have their schools up and running in August 2012. This first group of applicants is a special, "fast-tracked," pool because they have a previous relationship or record with the state, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction website. For instance, several of the applicants had been interviewed by the state before, but were not granted a charter because of the previous statewide cap.
The state will hold a separate, regular application process later this fall for other charter schools. Those applications will be due in April 2012. (More information on the application process)
The applicants in Triangle school districts are:
The Howard & Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School, Angela Lee
Research Triangle High School, Pamela Blizzard
Quality Education Academy of Durham, Alethea Bell
Widsom Academy, Craig James
Triangle Math and Science Academy, Kenan Gundogdu