Daily dose

Daily dose: Conflicts of interest version

State Ethics Commission belatedly completes review of NC fracking board (Raleigh News & Observer) -- More than two years into the task of writing the state’s fracking standards, all but two of the members of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission have been flagged for a potential conflict of interest. Chairman Vikram Rao received the 14 ethics evaluations from the State Ethics Commission last month and disclosed them Friday at the Mining and Energy Commission’s regular monthly meeting in Raleigh. … The lifespan of the Mining and Energy Commission has almost run its course. Under a state law passed this summer, the board is scheduled to dissolve on July 31 and will be replaced by a new Oil and Gas Commission to handle fracking permit reviews, variances, trade secrets and other requests. When asked about the belated evaluations, which were issued Oct. 23, the State Ethics Commission’s executive director, Perry Newson, said the ethics commission is working on thousands of evaluations with limited staff. “Frankly, I did not know that the MEC was going out of business soon,” Newson said. “That was a surprise to me.”

Editor's note: No shit, Sherlock. We've been discussing the MEC's conflicts of interest since they were empaneled. Massive fail.

Daily dose: 60 Minutes edition

The Spill at Dan River (60 Minutes-CBS News) -- Every year coal-burning power plants generate not only electricity, but a staggering amount of leftover coal ash that contains heavy metals unhealthy to humans. Yet due in part to intense industry lobbying, there are no federal regulations on its disposal. It's left to the states to oversee some of the most powerful utility companies in the country. So coal ash is often just dumped into giant pits that are dug by rivers and lakes, where toxins can leach into nearby water and soil. There are over 1,000 ash pits or ponds dotting the nation, many of them old, poorly monitored, all but forgotten. But every few years we are reminded that the status quo can lead to disaster --like the coal ash spill this past February into North Carolina's Dan River at a power plant owned by Duke Energy, the biggest utility company in the country. The spill at Dan River happened when a drainage pipe that ran underneath an ash basin and dam, collapsed, sucking out six decades of waste and spewing gunk directly into the river. … LESLEY STAHL: So that first report urging Duke to watch that pipe was 30 years ago. But there were others: 1996, 2001, 2006, advising you to keep watching that pipe, over and over. 2009, the EPA warned about the pipe. LYNN GOOD: Most of those-- LESLEY STAHL: How could you neglect those? … Duke closed the Dan River plant in 2012 - and that perplexed the governor. PAT MCCRORY: When I heard about the Dan River plant having a coal ash spill, my first reaction was, "Wait a minute. That plant's been closed for years. Why are we having a spill at a plant that's not even opened?" … Just this year Gov. McCrory cut the budget and staff of the specific department that inspects the ash ponds. The state legislature did pass a law in August, requiring Duke to clean up its plants, but only after the company had already volunteered to do that. Earlier, when Holleman tried to sue Duke, he was thwarted by the state which stepped in and negotiated a settlement that allowed Duke -- you guessed it -- more time to study, and imposed only a paltry fine. LESLEY STAHL: Tell everybody how much the fine was. PAT MCCRORY: I don't have that list, but again-- LESLEY STAHL: It was $99,111--

Daily dose: Remembering Pearl Harbor

'...A Date Which Will Live in Infamy' (Southern Pines Pilot) -- On this, the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, we bring you this special essay from Pinehurst resident R.S. “Swede” Boreen. Boreen was a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. I reported for duty to the Battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37) on 17 December, 1938 and served in her until that fateful day 73 years ago, a day that will live in infamy, and the day that changed not only the course of history but the course of so many of our lives.

Pearl Harbor memories live for survivor (Fayetteville Observer) -- Now 95, Edd Clay is one of the few survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Daily dose: Partisan posturing edition

Cooper calls immigration lawsuit 'partisan' in letter to Lt. Gov. Forest (Raleigh News & Observer) -- N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a letter on Friday that the multistate coalition challenging President Obama’s immigration plan filed a “partisan lawsuit” that “adds to the divisiveness that has prevented meaningful immigration reform.” The five-paragraph letter was sent to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in response to a request on Thursday for the N.C. attorney general to join the suit.

Daily dose: First the Dan, now the Yadkin

Conservation groups say Duke Energy plant leaks coal ash into river (LA Times) -- Three environmental groups said Thursday that they have discovered toxic coal ash leaks from a retired Duke Energy coal plant in North Carolina, allegedly polluting the Yadkin River nine months after a massive coal ash spill from a Duke plant fouled the nearby Dan River in February. The groups, which posted photos of the reported leaks, said the alleged discharges have not been disclosed by Duke Energy or by state environmental regulators. The leaks stretch for at least a quarter of a mile along the Yadkin River in central North Carolina, coating the river’s banks with orange sludge, the groups said. Coal ash stored in 33 ponds at 14 Duke Energy plants in North Carolina has been a volatile political issue since the Feb. 2 spill coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge from an ash storage pond at Duke’s Dan River plant. A Duke Energy spokesman said the utility regularly surveys all its coal ash sites for seeps, including the Yadkin river plant, and reports all findings to state environmental regulators. "Seeps occur at low flows and contain low levels of constituents, so the Yadkin River would be continue to be well protected and would not be influenced by these type of flows,’’ said the spokesman, Jeff Brooks. A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources said the agency will visit the Yadkin River site to test water quality "to determine if there are any exceedances of water quality standards." The spokesman, Jamie Kritzer, said the agency would take "appropriate actions’’ based on the results.

Daily dose: Tough pill to swallow version

GSK to eliminate 900 positions at its Research Triangle location (WNCN-TV) -- GlaxoSmithKline will eliminate about 900 positions from its Research Triangle Park location, and a significant number of those jobs will be in its research and development division. The drug maker said Wednesday that it has begun notifying employees of corporate restructuring that will occur during 2015. Most employees will be notified in early 2015 of the status of their jobs, the company said. In a filing with the N.C. Department of Commerce, GSK said about 350 positions will be eliminated in the first quarter, followed by 450 more positions during the second quarter. The company said the remaining 100 positions will be eliminated by the end of 2015.

Daily dose: "Stepping on toes" edition

Whose toes are bruised? (Greensboro News & Record column) -- The 2016 election is 23 months away, but Pat McCrory already has his campaign website up and an upbeat video about his accomplishments as governor. Unbelievably, its first statement is to repeat the fairy tale that he's been "stepping on toes" of Democrats and Republicans alike. It's his toes that have been stepped on, prompting him to file a lawsuit against legislative leaders of his own party. The lawsuit was a substitute for using the power of his office -- the veto stamp -- to block legislation he didn't like. When it comes to maintaining a balance of power with the legislative branch, the executive is losing. At the same time, he seems to be happy to claim credit for a teacher pay plan approved by the legislature that was not what he proposed and tax cuts that were not "revenue-neutral" as he said he wanted. He continues to tout a "Carolina Comeback" that many parts of the state are not feeling. While North Carolina no longer has the nation's fifth-highest unemployment rate, which certainly was unacceptable, and finally has regained the jobs lost during the recession, many more people are unemployed than in 2007 -- and their unemployment benefits are much less. Furthermore, our labor force has actually declined since the beginning of 2013, despite population growth.

Everyone is asking the same question

Who picks the winners: Party or people?

In the ideal view of American government, voters choose the leaders who will guide their states and country. But some say the way U.S. House and state legislative districts are drawn has turned that idea on its head: Every 10 years, the party in power picks which voters incumbents will face in the next election. Results of this year's general election have once again fueled concerns about North Carolina's redistricting process, one in which the state General Assembly draws lines for U.S. House and legislative districts once a decade. Exactly half of all 120 state Houses races in November featured only one candidate. In the Senate, 19 of 50 races had just the one candidate. Only 30-40 of the remaining seats in the two chambers were truly "in play," meaning either candidate had a realistic chance of winning, according to state political experts


Daily dose: To seem rather than to be

Boehner Faces the First Days of New Power in Congress (New York Times) -- John A. Boehner does not want to be remembered as the Shutdown Speaker. As Congress returns from recess on Monday facing a Dec. 11 deadline for funding the government, Mr. Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders are working to persuade the rank and file — furious over President Obama’s executive action on immigration — that engaging in a spending confrontation is the wrong way to counter the White House. That would set the wrong tone, they argue, as Republicans prepare to take over Congress and fulfill promises to govern responsibly. … “Shutting down the entire government over something never did make sense to the American people, still doesn’t and won’t in the future,” said Senator Richard M. Burr, R-NC, who is part of Mr. Boehner’s inner circle. Like other Boehner insiders, he believes that the speaker, bolstered by election victories, is looking beyond the immediate fight. “There is certainly an opportunity for him to put his mark on the largest Republican House majority in a long time,” Mr. Burr said. “To me, that is a big motivating factor.”

Daily dose: End of November edition

McCrory's plan to save money: Nothing to see here
Decrease in NC autopsies troubles police and medical officials (Charlotte Observer) -- The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner asked staff last year not to autopsy the bodies of hundreds of people who died in suspicious or unexpected circumstances, lowering the use of the state’s best tool for determining an exact cause of death. A June 2013 memo, obtained through a public records request, outlined the types of cases that pathologists in Raleigh should not autopsy on a regular basis. Included were the bodies of people older than 40 in apparent natural deaths, victims of alcohol or cocaine poisoning, or those whom police believe committed suicide with a gun or by hanging. The memo contradicts part of the state’s own guidelines, which call for autopsies on everyone from homicide and hit-and-run victims to bodies that have been charred or skeletonized.


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