- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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July 18

The Fayetteville Observer on setbacks depending on what Gov. Roy Cooper does with renewable energy legislation:

Sometimes a decision boils down to something pretty unpleasant, a choice where you have to pick the least-damaging option, but you feel lousy about it because you’re inflicting needless damage. So it is with the renewable energy legislation that’s on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. No matter what he does - sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature - there will be serious setbacks. His task is to select the least-awful option.

The solar-energy part of the legislation is an excellent piece of work. The legislation originated in the House, where lawmakers - led by Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville - did an extraordinary amount of homework. They spent months crafting the legislation, consulting with utilities, retailers, the renewable-energy industry and its supporters.

The bill increases incentives for more solar development in this state, but also finds ways to make it cheaper for consumers. It introduces greater competition to the solar development market and it’s likely to keep the state among the top solar-energy states in the country. And it also will bring down the costs of installing individual solar systems on homeowners’ rooftops. All those things are a plus that drew support from the solar industry as well as from Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility - a clear signal that lawmakers have crafted a win-win regulatory piece.

But when the bill went over to the state Senate, part of it got turned into the biggest loser. Harry Brown, the Senate majority leader from Jacksonville, has long waged war against wind farms, saying they will interfere with the military’s training missions and may end up causing the Defense Department to move some bases elsewhere, resulting in a catastrophic financial loss for the state. He offers no evidence beyond insisting that’s what some generals tell him in private. But that’s enough for Brown, who used his Senate clout to add a moratorium on wind farm development to the renewable-energy bill. His original measure included a 3 1/2-year moratorium but in negotiations with the House, it was reduced to 18 months.

Wind energy developers immediately cried foul, as well they should. Pentagon officials worked closely with the developers of the massive new Amazon wind farm on the state’s northeast coast, siting the windmills so they wouldn’t interfere with military flight missions, including the extensive training done over our coast. The developers and defense officials all declared it a successful exercise - which is already required by federal law anyway.

The Amazon wind farm is up and running, despite Brown’s attempt to stop it when it was nearly completed. But now, several other developers poised to spend hundreds of millions in North Carolina are saying they may go elsewhere if the moratorium passes. Brown says they’re bluffing, but we’re not so sure. And neither is the governor, who has to make a hard choice. If he vetoes the legislation - which the moratorium richly deserves - he may do serious damage to the state’s booming solar industry as well. Although Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, the renewable energy bill didn’t pass by a broad margin and lawmakers - especially in Brown’s Senate - may not be inclined to save the measure. If Cooper signs the bill, or lets it become law without his signature, he risks doing great damage to the wind-energy industry, which is just beginning to take off here.

But that, sadly, appears to be the least-terrible course to take. Sign the bill, or let it become law anyway, and then work nonstop to bring the moratorium to its earliest possible conclusion. The hiatus is designed to give the state time to chart the places where wind farms will be incompatible with military operations. That mission shouldn’t take more than a year to accomplish, and maybe less time than that. And then we can get back to helping wind farms become part of North Carolina’s energy mix. As we’ve learned from the solar industry, electric generators whose fuel is free turn out to be a pretty good deal.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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July 19

News & Record of Greensboro on a federal appellate court saying Rowan County Commissioners “rotated the prayer opportunity amongst themselves; no one else was permitted to offer an invocation:”

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners all but established Christianity as an official religion. A federal appeals court last week said it went too far.

“For years on end, the elected members of the county’s Board of Commissioners composed and delivered pointedly sectarian invocations,” Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson III wrote for a 10-5 majority of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “They rotated the prayer opportunity amongst themselves; no one else was permitted to offer an invocation. The prayers referenced one and only one faith and veered from time to time into overt proselytization.”

Commissioners responded to complaints and legal challenges with defiance, vowing to continue their practice. The result: A conflict that could have been resolved in compromise instead led to years of acrimony. Let’s hope it will now come to an end.

Prayers are permitted before public meetings. They should be inclusive and not designed to make anyone uncomfortable.

Rowan commissioners asked people attending their meetings to stand and pray with them. Citizens who didn’t want to participate wondered whether their business would get a fair hearing if they stood out for resisting a Christian message.

Rowan is a conservative county with many fine churches. But its population isn’t universally Christian. According to the U.S. Religion Census, 26.5 percent of residents identify as evangelical Protestants, 16 percent as mainline Protestants and 53.5 percent as “no religion.”

But, even if the numbers were different, the constitutional question is the same. When government is barred from establishing a religion, can county leaders begin official meetings with proclamations associated with just one faith? Can they show a clear preference for that religion?

While individuals are free to pray as they wish, or not pray, Wilkinson wrote, “what government is not free to do, however, is link itself persistently and relentlessly to a single faith.”

The ruling doesn’t oppose religious freedom. On the contrary, Wilkinson wrote, “free religious exercise can only remain free if not influenced and directed by the hand of the state.”

Nor was this the work of a “liberal” court. Wilkinson was nominated by Ronald Reagan. Three others in the majority were named by George W. Bush. It’s a conservative judgment supporting the intent of the founders to bar the establishment of a preferred religion.

Voters may elect representatives with their religious convictions in mind. But that doesn’t confer to those representatives the right to favor a particular religion during government proceedings.

If commissioners want to begin with prayers, they should invite a diversity of faith leaders to offer them. The court didn’t give directions but indicated there are acceptable alternatives.

One is to hold a moment of silence, which everyone can use to pray in his or her own way.

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

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July 19

Winston-Salem Journal on criticism Gov. Roy Cooper has received about his actions toward a carcinogen that can be found in well water:

Gov. Roy Cooper has rightly been criticized in recent days for not enacting better protection against hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen that can be found in well water. There are signs his administration is now headed in the right direction. We hope that’s the case.

“As a Democratic gubernatorial candidate last fall, Roy Cooper blasted his Republican opponent for adopting a more lenient standard than what’s recommended by North Carolina’s health agency for cancer-causing hexavalent chromium in well water,” The Associated Press reported last week. “Now that he’s governor, Cooper’s environmental agency has decided to keep that same standard, infuriating people who say their well water is contaminated and enabling former Gov. Pat McCrory to call Cooper a hypocrite.”

As that news broke, state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan issued a press release saying that he is “directing a state panel to provide science-based guidance that can be used to address the recently announced performance standard for chromium in groundwater.” A spokesman said that effort had been in the works for months.

We hope the panel works quickly to reach what should be the obvious conclusion: The standard should be raised.

And time is of the essence. The AP reported last week: “The state Department of Environmental Quality’s guidelines for the well-water filtering systems Duke Energy will be required by law to install for some neighbors of its North Carolina coal-ash storage pits were announced last week. They match the standard for protecting against hexavalent chromium that McCrory’s administration adopted, which is about 140 times higher than the amount the state’s health agency says could harm human health if exceeded. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says hexavalent chromium is likely to be carcinogenic when ingested.”

Duke has denied that its pits are the source of the hexavalent chromium found in the wells.

Lawyers for neighbors have sharply criticized the current standard, the AP reported. “Families will have to rely on these systems for safe tap water,” the lawyers said in a statement. “The much higher DEQ standard does not adequately protect the families who live near the coal ash.”

Better protection must come fast.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/


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