- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

May 24

Fayetteville Observer on natural gas exploration:

We’re reasonably comfortable with the notion that natural-gas exploration by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can be done safely.

But North Carolina’s course to drilling, which is likely to begin in just over a year, makes us uncomfortable. We see little evidence that state leaders’ rush to harvest underground gas supplies is putting health and safety first. Rather, we see lawmakers recognizing that they may have cut state taxes too deeply last year and now racing to grasp new revenue sources.

We also see influence following money, as it always does in politics. The petroleum industry has donated heavily to the campaigns of our governor and the Republican lawmakers whose majority in the General Assembly is leading the rush to unlock the natural gas in underground shale formations that center in Lee County.

As Observer reporter Andrew Barksdale reported in his six-part series on fracking last week, state regulators have learned from the problems they have seen in states that got into the gas business long before us. They have adopted fairly strong standards for drilling safety, but have nevertheless left some worrisome loopholes, like too-low bonding requirements for drillers and too-small buffers between drilling sites and private wells.

So far, the rule makers have stayed away from allowing injection of waste drilling fluids into underground caverns, but disposal of those fluids - billions of gallons will be used - is an issue.

An equally important concern is property rights, and that hasn’t been adequately addressed. Will North Carolina allow “forced pooling,” which says companies can drill under land against owners’ wishes if a simple majority of landowners in an area approve?

And what about consumer protections? The fracking industry is rife with stories about “land men” who talk property owners into signing contracts that pay them a pittance for the gas they rightfully own. What will North Carolina do to protect landowners from getting ripped off?

Those are only a few of the questions and problems that this state should be addressing in its fracking regulations, and we fear that it won’t get done in the General Assembly’s almost-panicked hurry to allow drilling.

Slow down and get it right.




May 25

Charlotte Observer on puppy mills:

Outlawing cruel treatment of dogs hardly seems controversial. The N.C. House didn’t think so, passing a bill last year on an easy 101-14 vote.

Now the legislation sits stalled in the Senate, despite the wishes of the House, the governor, the first lady, the Humane Society and all advocates for common sense. It’s not clear why, but neither of two stated reasons holds any water.

House Bill 930 is straightforward (read it yourself at www.ncleg.net; it’s only two pages long). All it does is require large-scale breeders (those with 10 or more reproducing dogs) to provide the most basic care to their dogs. Things like food and water. Keeping them in cages big enough where they can stand up. Not confining them with so much feces that they get sick. We’re not talking about the Waldorf-Astoria here.

Critics say they’re worried the bill could be a slippery slope toward putting burdensome regulations on the agricultural industry. That phantom fear is a reason to allow dog abuse? As first lady Ann McCrory says, “Even our dog Moe knows the difference between a hog and a dog.”

So maybe it’s that senators are being petty. Sen. Tom Apodaca says the bill won’t move because bill supporters recorded Sen. Bill Rabon using off-color language, trashing the bill and the governor for supporting it. We think elected officials should stand by their words, not run from them, but either way that’s not a reason to take your anger out on an innocent dog.

These rules target only the worst breeders. Reputable ones have nothing to fear. Pass the bill.




May 24

Winston-Salem Journal on road funding:

Short shrift is a term that seems appropriate when it comes to state transportation planning and funding for Forsyth County. The reason can be attributed to any number of things, from bad luck and poor timing, to prejudice and political impotence.

Whatever the case, Forsyth County has once again come up short on the state transportation improvement list that will determine road construction from 2016 to 2025. The draft Statewide Program, released last week, is absent two critically important local projects - the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway and the Business 40 improvements, the Journal’s Wesley Young reported.

Two local projects did make the preliminary list - both interchange reconstructions - but Guilford County has nine projects on the list, Mecklenburg County has 13 and Wake County, 25.

Something is wrong here.

Granted, the draft list is preliminary and projects may be dropped or added as decisions are refined at the regional and divisional levels, Pat Ivey, the division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth County, told the Journal.

“We didn’t anticipate that Business 40 would score well enough on the statewide criteria to qualify,” Ivey said. “The biggest problem with the Business 40 project is that we are not adding additional lanes. We are not adding additional capacity.”

That doesn’t mean the Business 40 project and the Northern Beltway won’t be funded. Both projects will be discussed over the next 90 days by highway planners and engineers to define priorities at the local level. There are currently 100 transportation projects on the state list, which will be finalized in 2015.

Still, local officials are nervous. The massive Business 40 improvement project not making the preliminary list probably had to do with timing.

The long-planned project will likely be added. But the Northern Beltway, the new Interstate 74, was left off the list because the state has made cost the dominant factor in setting priorities, rather than economic impact, Gayle Anderson, president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said in an email to the Journal editorial board.

“We believe the state needs to set its priorities for roads of statewide significance by making ROI (return on investment) a key consideration instead of cost,” Anderson wrote. The beltway project, delayed for more than a decade by legal challenges, is expected to attract new industry and create jobs all along its path through eastern Forsyth County.

Anderson is correct. The state should reconsider how it prioritizes road construction and fund the Northern Beltway. Forsyth County deserves to have this project move forward.



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