- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 10

News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C., on waiting to decide who should pay for ash pond cleanups:

At first mention of Duke Energy’s intention to recoup the money it spends on coal ash cleanup from customers, the knee wants to jerk right up to the ears. The customers are going to pay for the company’s mistake? You’ve got to be kidding.

After all, Duke is the world’s largest electric utility and made a profit of $2.7 billion last year.

But for customers, the consequences of the now-infamous Dan River coal ash spill last month really are unknown.

What is known is that if the company seeks to add 75 cents or so to customers’ monthly bills to pay for the spill’s cleanup and for more secure storage of coal ash at other sites, Attorney General Roy Cooper says he will fight it in court.

And the state Utilities Commission, which would have to approve any settlement with Duke, is a politically sensitive organization that isn’t going to want to look anti-consumer should it approve a rate hike.

In addition, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is under the public microscope with people wondering whether it was a little too easy-going and “customer friendly” with Duke when it came to the coal ash situation. Add another complication to that one: Gov. Pat McCrory is a former Duke employee, and among his promises in campaigns and on taking office was to reduce regulations that in his view hampered business.

Then there’s this wild card: A federal grand jury is going to convene this month, likely to investigate whether anyone was aware of rules being violated. If it emerges that Duke improperly sought to ease coal ash rules, then clearly the utility should pay to eliminate the hazards that resulted.

As for who should pay the cleanup costs, it’s in the public’s interest for Duke Energy to remain a healthy company. It has much territory to cover and must maintain resources to deal with emergencies such as weather problems that disrupt power. Customers do not want a weak or unstable power company.

But they do want, and expect, a company that does business in a way that protects the environment and follows the rules. Duke is getting ready to undergo what’s likely unprecedented scrutiny of its operations. What comes out of the scrutiny may well clarify who should pay for the coal ash mess.




March 10

Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on Texas Pete building on Rock the Block success:

All good things must come to an end. But if we’re lucky, that’s to make room for even better things.

Rock the Block, the downtown street festival that has taken place every year since 2002, is retiring after a successful 12-year run. Taking its place will be a new multiday downtown festival in the arts district called the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival, the Journal’s Tim Clodfelter reported last week.

Back in the days when there was “nothing to do here,” city officials and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership organized the block party, complete with live music and food vendors, to show off Fourth Street’s renovated sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping. While 5,000 were anticipated the first time around, an estimated 20,000 people packed the streets to mix, mingle and dance. Despite the rain it sometimes seemed to generate, every festival since also drew crowds.

But the time has come to pass the baton.

“I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed being one of the organizers of Rock the Block,” Ed McNeal, Winston-Salem’s director of marketing and communications, told the Journal. “But I can honestly say it has served its purpose.”

Indeed, if the purpose was to garner traffic and commerce, Rock the Block was a complete success; downtown is livelier than ever. And the wealth has spread; last year, Rock the Block had to compete with at least four other city-wide events on the same day and two more that month.

“There are big events behind us and in front of us, and from a city government perspective, if this is being taken care of privately, we don’t need to invest in continuing to do this,” McNeal told the Journal. That’s sound reasoning.

The new event, organized by T.W. Garner Food Co., will highlight full-service restaurants in Winston-Salem. Music and food should abound.

Cheers to the memory of Rock the Block and to future festivals with hometown hero Texas Pete.




March 9

Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer on lowering test bar was necessary for now:

With one vote, the N.C. Board of Education ensured that thousands of third-graders can advance without having to attend summer reading camps.

Board members split 8-4 over reducing standards in a new state program to test whether students can read by fourth grade.

Rollout of the program has been flawed. The board had to allow many districts to develop alternative testing regimens. Republican legislators accused Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson of sabotaging implementation by dragging her feet, introducing materials to schools months too late. Atkinson has been critical of the legislation itself.

Involving students in political games would have been pointless. The board’s actions were probably necessary. But the original goal remains important. Students in fourth grade and up can’t learn much in subjects like science and social studies if they don’t read. The days of promoting unprepared students until they graduate, becoming illiterate, marginally employable adults, must end.

One of those who voted against lower standards, Becky Taylor of Greenville, expressed concern that parents would get the wrong message and not realize if children need help. She’s right.

This change was needed, but it should be temporary while legislators correct broader problems with the new program’s execution, then restore higher standards.





Click to Read More

Click to Hide