- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

August 20

Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, North Carolina, on a provision that would fast-track state constitutional challenges:

Here’s an unreasonable solution to unreasonably bad legislation: If an N.C. lawmaker votes for a bill that is subsequently rejected by the courts, that lawmaker must help pay for resources that went into defending the flawed law.

Absurd? Well, yes. But no more so than the latest legislative gem from N.C. Republicans - a provision in the state budget that fast-tracks all constitutional challenges of state laws directly to a three-judge panel appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

The law, which takes effect in September, will bypass pesky Superior Court judges, who keep rudely reminding Republicans that the Constitution matters when it comes to lawmaking. Republicans say the problem isn’t the laws, it’s the judges. A panel, they say, will keep activists from “judge shopping” - or finding a Superior Court judge who might issue a favorable ruling.

Of course, this new law is judge shopping to the extreme: Challenges to state law will now leap straight to a panel selected by the Republican judges who control the state Supreme Court.

The North Carolina State Bar and the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts oppose the provision, which is the first of its kind in the country. There’s a reason for that: The law deprives plaintiffs the full appeals process they’re entitled to. That includes Superior Court judges issuing stays on legislation being implemented until matters are legally settled.

All of which means that this law, too, can be added to the list of constitutionally flawed measures passed by N.C. Republicans in recent sessions.

We’re not sure why Republicans continue to hold their hands over the legal flame like this. It could be that controlling the legislature and governor’s mansion has left them with the illusion that no one, not even judges, should be able to tell them no. It could be they think there’s no harm in tossing a bad bill up against the wall and seeing what sticks.

But there is harm. Passing flawed legislation wastes time and resources, and this most recent law shows an additional disregard for the role the courts play in lawmaking. Here’s a better - and even reasonable - idea: If some of the laws you pass are getting held up in court, don’t try to silence judges. Write better laws.

Online:

https://www.charlotteobserver.com

____

August 25

Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, North Carolina, on public comment to proposed rules governing fracking:

After four hours of comments from 85 speakers, the crowd of more than 400 in Sanford for Friday’s public hearing on fracking might agree that the topic raises strong emotions on both sides.

Policy makers could finish these meetings, say they’ve met their legal obligation to listen, then go ahead with the rules already formulated. But that’s hardly in the best interest of the state.

Those opposed to fracking made up more than 80 percent of the speakers Friday. Additional foes of hydraulic fracturing demonstrated outside. Considering their numbers and intensity, the rules could be rewritten to embrace opponents’ agendas. But basing policy on a head count isn’t acceptable either.

Those opposing new rules on any issue, from zoning to the environment, are most likely to attend a public hearing, along with a much smaller number of people who have a vested interest. But everyone else has to live with the new rules and fracking has dramatic potential - an economic upside and an ecological downside.

Finalizing the rules should take into account the logical points raised at this hearing and others. Several speakers at an earlier Sanford hearing, which focused on fracking wastewater, said the new rules were too short on details.

Those points deserve well-reasoned consideration. Lawmakers promise the best fracking safety rules in the country. We expect to get them.

Online:

https://www.fayobserver.com

____

August 19

Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on recently passed state coal ash legislation:

Gov. Pat McCrory and his administration are making steps toward pushing Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash-storage ponds. But a lot more is needed. State legislative leaders announced legislation that would be a start toward that.

State environmental officials told Duke that they want plans within three months for closing coal ash-storage ponds at the retired Dan River Steam Station, the site of February’s big spill, and three other plants, The Associated Press reported. Agency officials said they were making the request as a follow-up to the governor’s executive order after the General Assembly failed to act on proposed legislation governing the utility’s ash-storage ponds across our state.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources told Duke to submit by Nov. 15 “plans for excavating inactive coal ash storage ponds” at the Dan River, Asheville, Riverbend and Sutton plants. The agency says it’s also requiring increased testing of drinking water, ground water and underground pipe networks near all of Duke’s storage ponds, the AP reported, and says it’s reviewing wastewater permits at seven of Duke’s other coal-fired plants that remain in operation.

But environmental activists rightly want more. Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the AP that DENR is only asking “Duke to do what Duke has already said it will do - prepare plans to clean up the four sites Duke has already said it will clean up. It’s way past time for Duke to clean up coal ash at all of Duke’s 14 leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina.”

He said that in addressing pond closures at Dan River and the other three, “DENR still is not acting to require cleanup of Duke’s dangerous coal ash storage in 10 communities” elsewhere in the state.

He’s right. Despite Duke’s efforts thus far, our state can’t afford the risk of another spill the size of the Dan River one. The AP reported that the plants in question generated electricity for years with coal-fired technology that left large amounts of potentially toxic ash, often kept under water in basins near a river or lake.

Of the four plants that state officials addressed, the Asheville plant is the only one that continues to operate as a coal plant. The others are in Gaston County and Wilmington. Duke Energy has storage ponds at a total of 14 active and inactive plants across the state, the AP reported.

The compromise legislation announced Tuesday night would provide more protection, but a lot more is still needed.

Extreme precaution is warranted. Our waters are precious natural resources that must be protected.

Online:

https://www.journalnow.com


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