- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


April 22

Times & Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Earth Day:

Today’s Earth Day observance was created in 1970 by then-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson as a way to force the protection of the environment onto the national agenda. The idea caught on with 20 million Americans demonstrating in cities across the country for a cleaner environment.

Congress subsequently authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA notes that “before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it. … there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.”

Today, with some factions in the country questioning the need for the EPA and others doubting the reality of climate change, Earth Day issues remain caught up in politics and perception.

Against that backdrop, the personal finance website WalletHub released its report on 2015’s Most & Least Eco-Friendly States.

Using data from both government sources and independent scientific organizations, WalletHub compared the 50 states based on 14 metrics, which were separated into two main groups: environmental quality and eco-friendly behaviors.

Environmental quality considers the current state of the environment in each area, while eco-friendly behaviors evaluate the environmental impact of population habits.

Some key findings:

. Democratic “Blue States” are more eco-friendly than Republican “Red States,” with average rankings of 15.9 and 35.9, respectively (1 = Best).

. Hawaii has three times as much municipal solid waste per capita as Missouri.

. Maine recycles 48 times more of its municipal solid waste than Louisiana.

. New York’s per-capita carbon footprint is 14 times higher than Wyoming’s.

. The percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources is 20 times higher in Oregon than in Delaware.

. New Mexico has seven times as many alternative-fueled vehicles on the road per capita as West Virginia.

. The percentage of people who do not drive themselves to work is three times higher in New York than in Alabama.

The most eco-friendly states, according to the rankings, are: Vermont, Oregon, Minnesota and Massachusetts. The least-friendly are Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky and Indiana.

For South Carolina, there is good and bad to report:

South Carolina is 13th in environmental quality with rankings based on carbon dioxide emissions per capita (or “Carbon Footprints”), total municipal solid waste per capita, air quality (average exposure of the general public to particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in size), water quality and soil quality.

But the state is 40th in eco-friendly behaviors based on:

. Number of green (LEED) buildings per capita.

. Percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources.

. Energy consumption per capita.

. Energy efficiency.

. Gasoline consumption per capita.

. Water consumption per capita per day (domestic).

. Number of alternative-fueled vehicles per capita.

. Green transportation (percentage of the population that walks, bikes, carpools, takes public transportation or works from home).

. Percentage of municipal solid waste recycled.

Though individual action cannot change the big picture, action by enough individuals can. Thus, the focus on Earth Day is as much about what you can do personally as what can be done politically and otherwise.

Douglas McCauley, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at University of California Santa Barbara, has Earth Day advice for the individual:

. Realize that the even the smallest decisions people make in their daily lives can collectively add up to big change. For example, every gallon of gas burned generates about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. If everyone in North America trimmed about 1 gallon of gas a week, that would be about 250 million tons less carbon in the atmosphere.

. The same effect of micro-change adding up to a big difference goes for how much disposable plastic people use, what people choose to eat for dinner and what kind of light bulbs are bought.

“The world will not be saved by environmental heroism, but by the tiniest bits of change that we and our 7 billion neighbors on the planet make together.”




April 22

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on the pace of confirmations for Cabinet posts:

Senators don’t have to approve presidential nominations for Cabinet, court and other positions. But they should at least make those decisions in a timely manner.

So though it was good news Tuesday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the full Senate will soon vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general, which legislative duty has waited far too long.

Sen. McConnell offered that belated assurance Tuesday after finally reaching a compromise with Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on abortion language in a sex-trafficking bill.

You need not be a fan of President Barack Obama - or of his picking Ms. Lynch as the next attorney general - to find the modern Capitol Hill pattern of needlessly protracted confirmation processes troubling.

The president nominated Ms. Lynch last Nov. 8. The Senate Judiciary Committee recommended her confirmation on Feb. 26. So why hasn’t she gotten an up-or-down vote yet?

Democrats held up the sex-trafficking bill after discovering language, inserted by Sen. John Coryn, R-Texas, restricting federal abortion funding for trafficking victims to cases of rape and incest. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, spoke for many in her party who opposed that wording on pro-choice “principle.”

Republicans fairly countered that the abortion-funding clause merely echoed federal Hyde Amendment limitations that have long been in place.

The logjam has at last been broken by a “dual funding” deal that, according to Politico, allows “both Democrats and Republicans a way to save face.” As that story reported Tuesday: “Democratic leaders can say they aren’t expanding the Hyde amendment’s reach into privately funded accounts and the GOP can boast that the bill still contains some abortion restrictions.”

But again, it shouldn’t have taken this long.

Yes, during her confirmation hearings, Lynch was far from convincing while defending President Obama’s bad habit of executive actions, including on immigration policy, that are at best constitutionally dubious and at worst alarming overreaches of his legal authority.

Yet any senator who finds Ms. Lynch’s perspective on this president’s arbitrary power grabs unacceptable can vote against her confirmation. And she evidently has enough votes to become the next AG. That actually should please many Americans rightly dismayed by the performance of Eric Holder, the man she will replace.

The Senate does have a duty to effectively scrutinize presidential nominees before approving - or rejecting - them.

However, barring some clearly disqualifying factor, lawmakers should give presidents reasonable deference in their choices.

After all, as many politicians in both parties, including Mr. Obama, frequently point out, “Elections have consequences.”

And one consequence is that the people who win the White House tend to appoint people with similar viewpoints. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine any AG nominee telling senators that the president who picked her - or him - has violated the Constitution.

So the Senate should move forward to confirm Ms. Lynch.

Meanwhile, politicians in both parties should move away from the troubling trend of lengthy postponements of up-or-down votes on presidential appointments.




April 18

The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on body cameras for police:

The cellphone video was shocking.

A man, fleeing on foot from a North Charleston police officer, was shot in the back and died.

While nothing will bring back victim Walter Scott, we as a state can learn from the experience and ensure that the unbiased eye of the camera captures future interaction between police and citizens.

Last week, a state Senate subcommittee took the first symbolic steps, approving a bill that would require police statewide to wear the small cameras less than one year after the proposal becomes law.

But many questions remain, including the cost of outfitting officers with the technology (estimates are $21 million for the first year), how to store all of the data and who should have access to the data.

These issues can be worked out — if senators and House members make the bill’s passage a priority and work together.

At least 15 law enforcement agencies across the state either already use cameras or have ordered them, according to The Associated Press. Locally, body cameras are used by the Bluffton Police Department, Hardeeville and Ridgeland police departments, and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office. Beaufort and Port Royal police departments have tested the cameras.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone sees their value. “I want as much credible evidence to help me make a decision to prosecute and then present to a jury if we go to trial,” Stone said. “Certainly there are challenges and things that need to be outlined, but at the end of the day, from a prosecutor’s standpoint, body cameras provide clear, credible evidence.”

Unfortunately, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has said that he has no plans to equip his deputies with cameras, noting that his department already uses in-car cameras, audio recorders that are worn on deputies’ uniforms and video-recorded interrogation rooms.

But in-car cameras have a limited range of vision; audio recordings provide incomplete pictures (think if we only had audio of the North Charleston incident) and video recorders in interrogation rooms are only helpful, well, in interrogation rooms.

Far too many of the interactions between deputies and citizens are currently not being preserved. And that leaves citizens — and police officers — vulnerable. Take for example an incident last year when Bluffton Police were trying out the cameras. A driver claimed a Bluffton officer pulled him over and got out of his patrol car with his gun drawn. The recording showed otherwise, eliciting an apology from the driver.

Like DNA evidence, cameras provide a passionless, unbiased view of what transpired. And that’s good for those in and out of uniform.



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