- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Sept. 19

The Charlotte Observer on what has changed since the fatal police shooting of an African-American man:

One year after Keith Lamont Scott was killed, everything has changed and little has changed.

The police shooting of Scott on Sept. 20 last year and the protests that ripped through our city afterward changed everything - for his friends and family, certainly, but also for how we see ourselves. And yet there is an uneasy feeling that Charlotte has done very little to prevent a similar tragedy from happening today, and that if one did, the city would not be prepared to handle it differently.

Tensions that are generations in the making aren’t resolved overnight, or even in a year. But Charlotte has long prided itself on being a “can-do” place. So it is right to have high expectations for its response to one of its sternest challenges. To our eyes, that response has been inadequate.

Consider all the places more could be done:

As former Sen. Malcolm Graham told Observer reporter Ely Portillo this week, “People were not out there rioting and looting because they wanted more affordable housing. We have to address the elephant in the middle of the room, which is police relations within the city of Charlotte.”

Police Chief Kerr Putney says his department is more transparent and is expanding the use of officers’ body cameras. City Council members say police have tried to improve relations with residents.

But many residents don’t feel it. The city said only on Sept. 19 that it had received Police Foundation recommendations seven months after the city agreed to pay it $400,000 to review CMPD policies. Putney has said the department will continue to routinely investigate its own officers’ shootings rather than inviting independent reviews. The Citizens Review Board that examines police conduct has no more power today.

On the flip side, another aspect that hasn’t changed: Some activists making unfounded allegations against police. Some long maintained that Scott was unarmed, and they still question even today whether police killed protester Justin Carr. An investigation found that Scott was armed and did not drop his gun despite repeated commands, and there is no evidence that police killed Carr.

The City Council, for its part, vowed to tackle jobs and affordable housing in addition to police procedures. It has taken only baby steps on those fronts. The city claims it is on track to fulfill a promise to create 5,000 affordable housing units in three years, but many of those are merely refurbished, not newly constructed, units and 5,000 falls far short of the need in any case.

The Opportunity Task Force did stellar work identifying causes of and potential solutions to the city’s glacial economic mobility. Yet a council formed to implement those solutions was announced only on Sept. 19, six months after the task force’s work was unveiled.

It is tempting to expect an event as seismic as the Scott shooting and protests to lead to monumental change. Such an expectation may be unrealistic; it may also be essential.

We have so far to go. We have no time to waste. We are moving too slowly.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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Sept. 18

The News & Observer of Raleigh on lawmakers’ efforts to oppose the U.S. Interior Department allowing offshore fuel exploration and drilling:

The push by the Trump administration for oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast began with Trump’s bombastic rhetoric and anything-but-Obama themes in his campaign and in the early months of his presidency.

Hence the president’s executive order in the spring that called for opening federal coastal waters to oil and gas leasing. That search would begin with seismic testing, the results of which are not precisely known - but about which enough is known to make it a very bad idea. The testing, and the drilling should exploration proceed, could put coastal marine life in danger. And that’s in addition to the risk of spills, etc., with exploration.

And here’s the truly ludicrous thing about the argument for exploration: oil prices are depressed (excluding the post-hurricane situation) and there are plenty of reserves. In addition, onshore shale extraction is a much lower-cost endeavor than offshore projects.

That’s why a bipartisan group of business leaders, members of Congress and in particular elected leaders on the East Coast have stepped up efforts to change the mind of the Department of the Interior to allow exploration and then drilling to proceed.

These leaders recognize that the alleged boom in jobs and economic development that could result - but by no means are guaranteed to result - from oil and gas exploration on the East Coast hardly are worth the potential damage that could be done.

One environmental disaster in the form of some giant oil spill could wound, and seriously so, North Carolina’s economy on its cherished coast forever. Millions and millions and … yes, millions of dollars in annual tourism income in “Variety Vacationland” could be in jeopardy, along with the fishing/seafood industry. In addition, some kind of environmental catastrophe could even, theoretically, render parts of the coast uninhabitable.

The benefits of oil and gas exploration - hardly a certainty, by the way - are nowhere near worth the risk, particularly when the nation is not in some kind of desperate need for the resources such exploration might deliver.

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer of North Carolina’s 7th (coastal) District supports offshore exploration, reckoning it in a statement to something that can be done “in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.” But Rouzer’s mates from coastal states, some of them anyway, appear to be getting a little nervous about the risks in offshore drilling, for example.

Offshore exploration has always smacked of being a purely political issue for President Trump, who never bothers much with details. But for North Carolinians and residents of other East Coast states, the details couldn’t be more important. And they’re troubling enough to warrant a fallback from the president before exploration does damage that cannot be undone.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Sept. 24

The News & Record of Greensboro on Gov. Roy Cooper vetoing a bill about chemical dumping into the Cape Fear River:

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill last week but was responding to years of neglect.

House Bill 56 was introduced in February. It was just two pages long and required dam owners to file an emergency action plan in case of breach.

Over the next several months, it gained a lot of baggage, turning into a barge-load of environmental deregulation provisions.

But it never passed. Or not until the legislature returned to Raleigh from an August break to address the GenX crisis.

GenX is a chemical compound that was released into the Cape Fear River near Fayetteville by Chemours, a DuPont spin-off that uses the substance in the manufacture of Teflon. GenX is unregulated but suspected of causing cancer. The discovery of GenX in the Cape Fear alarmed Wilmington-area residents, who drink water from the river.

The state Department of Environmental Quality won an agreement from the company this summer to stop dumping GenX into the river, but legislators wanted to take further action. On Aug. 31, they amended HB 56 with an appropriation of $435,000 - not to the DEQ but to area water utilities and UNC-Wilmington - to study the problem and to make recommendations for identifying and removing the chemical from the river.

Cooper had requested $2.6 million for DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services “to put more experts on the ground - hiring engineers, monitors, permit writers and scientists.” But the Republican legislature wouldn’t give the Democratic governor a dime.

In his veto message, Cooper noted that the larger bill “weakens protections from river pollution and landfills and repeals a local plastic bag ban supported by local governments and businesses that was passed to protect the environment.”

He’s right, and the legislature should not have used the GenX issue as a vessel for floating through unrelated, controversial provisions. The legislature’s GenX response was so limited that it appeared those other measures were the primary reason it passed HB 56.

But Cooper didn’t stop there with his complaints. He noted that “state regulators have suffered repeated budget cuts,” losing 70 positions from DEQ since 2013.

“The urgent need to protect our state’s drinking water is not an issue that will soon go away,” Cooper said. “There are no short cuts, and the presence of GenX in groundwater in Fayetteville makes clear that the solution cannot be limited to Wilmington.”

House Speaker Tim Moore reacted harshly to the veto: “It defies belief that Gov. Cooper is still making the false claim that GenX contamination is related to recent state budgets, and more shocking that he would reject emergency funds intended to protect the citizens of the Cape Fear region to continue this irrelevant assertion,” he said.

Cooper didn’t claim that the GenX problem happened because of budget cuts. Rather, the state’s ability to respond is hampered because it’s been given less funding for regulatory work by an anti-regulatory legislature.

Ironically, it was Moore who blamed inadequate government action: “The GenX crisis is decades in the making due to the failure of state agencies - spanning multiple, bipartisan administrations back to the 1980s - to properly regulate clean water resources in North Carolina,” he said in a statement.

In that case, Moore should lead a legislative effort to replace HB 56 with a better bill that empowers appropriate state agencies to address the GenX problem and also begins to restore their ability to properly safeguard our state’s precious water resources.

Threats have been decades in the making. GenX won’t be the last. It’s time to strengthen the state’s ability to regulate them before people are harmed.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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