Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


THIS NAVY TEST PILOT SAYS SEN. BROWN'S WIND ENERGY BAN IS MISGUIDED: I served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years as an aviator, test pilot, aircraft carrier commanding officer and commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, retiring at the rank of vice admiral. I later served as assistant Secretary of the Navy, responsible for all Navy and Marine Corps installations around the world. Nothing is more important to me than protecting the safety of our military aviators and ensuring the continued viability of our military training facilities. With that in mind, Senate Bill 377, the “Military Base Protection Act,” recently introduced in the North Carolina Senate, caught my eye. The bill’s title actually is a misnomer. It has little to do with protecting military bases. Rather, the legislation really is just a ban on wind energy development along North Carolina’s coast. And while it is important that all development (not just wind development) be compatible with critical military missions, this bill is unnecessary.

GOP CHAIRMAN'S INDICTMENT SHOWS WEAKNESS IN CAMPAIGN LAWS: On Monday, the day before his indictment was announced, Robin Hayes said he was stepping down as chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party because of health issues. By Tuesday, the public learned that what was driving Hayes from office wasn’t only his ailments, but the ill health of North Carolina’s system of political fundraising. The indictment handed up by a federal grand jury accuses Hayes of trying to funnel bribe money to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey on behalf of Greg Lindberg, a major political donor who owns a business subject to regulation by the insurance commissioner. Hayes, a former congressman, is also charged with three counts of making false statements to the FBI. Lindberg and two other people were also charged following an investigation that started when Causey, a Republican, took his concerns about attempted bribery to the FBI. Hayes’ indictment shocked many in the capital, but those who deal in increasingly unlimited and undocumented political funding should have been surprised only that charges took this long to come.

COMMITMENT AND FULL FUNDING, NOT LEGISLATIVE GIMMICKS, ARE WHAT NC TEACHERS NEED: Did Johnson and the legislative leadership really believe they’d fool teachers, parents and taxpayers that easily? Did they really think that these folks couldn’t do the arithmetic? They’re teachers. They do math every day. They know an unchanged $47 million budget for school supplies isn’t an increase – even if it is divvied up into slices of $400 per teacher through a smartphone app. It’s a financial shell game. They know 10 years ago the legislature provided $83 million for school supplies ($101.2 million in current value). They know that budget’s been sliced to about half. A decade ago, the state provided more than $60 per student for classroom supplies. With the new scheme, now it’s down to more like $20 per student. The drastic reductions in school supplies funding is yet another example of how legislative priorities to deliver huge corporate tax cuts has resulted in neglect of one of the state’s most fundamental obligations – providing the opportunity for a quality education to every child.

WINSTON-SALEM GERRYMANDERING BILL NEEDS TO BE PULLED: Currently, the city council is composed of four white and four black members. Seven are Democrats and one, Robert Clark, is a Republican. That’s not unusual for an urban area. But the newly configured wards proposed by the bill would put three black Democratic women, North Ward member D.D. Adams, Northeast Ward member Vivian Burke and East Ward member Annette Scippio, in the same ward. They would likely have to compete against each other in the next election. “I sort of bristle at the fact that once again, the General Assembly reaches into Winston-Salem and tells them how to run their local elections,” council member Jeff MacIntosh told the Journal. We agree. There’s been no public outcry to change the current ward configuration — but the public sure is speaking up now. That includes local representatives of the Urban League and the NAACP, who last week called the ward-adjustment plan “racially discriminatory” and vowed to fight it.

ALABAMA'S CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PRISONS: On Wednesday, the Justice Department put Alabama on notice over the state’s “flagrant disregard” for the constitutional rights of inmates in its prisons. The department said that conditions in the state’s prisons are among the nation’s very worst. “After carefully reviewing the evidence,” department officials wrote in a letter addressed to Gov. Kay Ivey, “we conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions at Alabama’s prisons violate the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution,” which protects against cruel and unusual forms of punishment. The findings in an accompanying 56-page report — the result of an investigation that began in 2016 — shock the conscience. Violent attacks and grisly deaths discovered long after they’ve occurred. Contraband and makeshift weapons that go undetected. Sexual abuse occurring “at all hours of the day and night.” Overcrowding so excessive and staffing so inadequate that inmates are virtually unsupervised and, in the words of a former warden, “in extreme danger.” Grossly inadequate health care. And, according to federal statistics noted in the report, the highest prison homicide rate in the country.


SHERRY EMANUEL: GREEN NEW DEAL IS BOLD AND SOUND: I cannot more strongly disagree with the opinion that the Democrats are on a risky path, lunging to the left. In fact, the Democrats are not lurching to the left, they are trying to wrench the country back to normalcy. The Republicans have ceded control of the rudder to Big Business and Big Money, whose only interests lie in increasing their preposterously large profits and personal wealth. Almost 90 years ago, in response to Herbert Hoover’s ineffective response to the Great Depression and laissez-faire policies, FDR created the New Deal to bring about economic relief and reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, energy, labor and housing. This country – and the planet – are in even worse shape today. We are in desperate need of bold and creative ideas and the willpower to undertake them. In a crisis state, tweaking around the edges will not help. The Green New Deal will return us to civic responsibility and a goal of the greater good. The policies are principled and sound and will be paid for by leveling the economy.

SARAH AUKAMP: THE CLASSROOM IS NOT THE PLACE FOR FIREARMS: As someone who attended public schools in North Carolina for all of my education — and as the daughter of an N.C. public school teacher — I question the logic behind the proposed bill that would allow N.C .teachers who are carrying guns in schools to receive a pay raise. This Republican-sponsored bill would give salary increases to teachers who have gone through specific training to carry a gun in their classroom, would make schools less safe, not safer. Rather than add more guns, legislators should focus on gun-control laws and the accessibility of guns to the majority of the U.S. population. There are other things that need to be done to combat gun violence not only in schools but in the U.S. and adding more guns to the equation is not the answer. New Zealand’s response of banning assault rifles and military-grade weapons just days after the tragic mass shooting that took place on March 15 represents a more responsible approach. Although this isn’t a total solution it’s certainly a start and is more effective than arming grade school teachers. The real threat isn’t the 5-year-olds in the classroom but the corrupt system of gun control in this country.

THOMASINE KENNEDY: STATE HEALTH CARE USERS DESERVE SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION: As a longtime hospital board member and a health care consumer, I understand the frustration people have about understanding the cost of health care. But when I hear our elected state treasurer talk about purchasing health care for state employees like buying a cup of coffee or a car, I feel that the public is being misled. Health care is a service that is tailored especially to the recipient, dependent on the person, their health status, age, and yes, even where they receive the care. I want my elected state treasurer to be sure that my tax dollars are being used wisely, especially when it comes to health care. But the financial challenges facing the state health plan didn’t happen overnight and they can’t be solved with a single action. I support state legislators’ decision to call for a collaborative approach to redesigning the state health plan that brings all the stakeholders to the table. I have friends and relatives who rely on the state health plan for their health care coverage. They deserve a sustainable solution that will offer them access to their trusted care providers and support them in getting and staying healthy.



From the dark side

This week's loser is somebody we'd hoped had been swept into the dustbin of incompetent environmental regulators, Donald van der Vaart:

Roughly $1.25 billion. That’s how much Duke Energy customers will be overpaying for electricity over the next 10 to 15 years. We can thank North Carolina law — and Gov. Roy Cooper — for the higher bills that come with long-term solar energy contracts Duke has been forced to accept. That’s not only bad for Duke’s customers, it puts the utility at odds with a different state law that obligates Duke to seek the lowest-cost electricity and to maintain the reliability of the electric grid.

I just pulled my recent Duke Energy bill out of the drawer to take a gander, and out of the $160.18 charge for last month, my renewable energy "rider" is seven cents. The NC sales tax is $10.48, and I haven't heard a damn word from the anti-tax crowd about that. But that 7c has inspired the John Locke Foundation's newest orphaned "expert" to rail against clean energy. Go figure.

For nearly two years, Duke officials have warned about the root cause of the higher bills, which stems from North Carolina’s interpretation of a federal law known as PURPA. The law requires the utility to buy solar power at old, high rates even though costs for other types of energy have dropped significantly since the old rates were negotiated. States have considerable discretion with PURPA, and because of North Carolina’s very favorable interpretation, our state now has more PURPA contracts for solar power than any other state in the nation.

Good. Our Solar growth is one of the (very) few things we can be proud of. So of course Republicans want to destroy it.

In April 2017, Kendal C. Bowman, vice president of Regulatory Affairs and Policy for North Carolina for Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, characterized solar power growth under North Carolina’s generous interpretation of PURPA as “uncoordinated and unrestrained.”

Again, we see the true nature of the Faux Libertarians at JLF. They wail and gnash their teeth about how government "coordinates and restrains" the private sector. But when something they don't like (renewable energy) breaks those bonds and grows like crazy, all of a sudden it's a problem. The hypocrisy is astounding.

The good news is that the General Assembly listened to Duke’s concerns. The result was House Bill 589, passed in July 2017. While the legislation included concessions to both the utility and the solar lobby, it amended North Carolina’s interpretation of PURPA. That change would have reduced significantly the number of solar contracts and the price paid by Duke as of Sept. 1, 2017. That change would have translated into an estimated $850 million in savings on the cost of future solar power.

The bad news is that WBTV reported that, months later, Cooper pressured Duke to sign a settlement with the solar industry that gutted much of the customer relief included in HB 589. The pressure was applied after the solar industry claimed Duke’s interpretation of the new law was preventing many projects from being grandfathered under the old over-priced rate. In other words, the industry wanted as many projects as possible to be exempt from the new law, even though the law would reduce the bills for Duke customers.

You want to talk about "customer relief"? How about being able to go outside without choking on airborne particulates? How about being able to drink a glass of water without worrying about Arsenic or Selenium? How about being able to eat fish without worrying about Methyl Mercury building up in your body until liver function stutters or babies are born with neurological issues?

The pure economic truth is, our PURPA stance has brought NC billions in investments, from across the country and the world. And they're not dirty investments, like Chinese owners of NC hog farms, who pollute the shit out of our state and laugh all the way to the bank. Or European investments that have us clear-cutting tens of thousands of acres of trees so they can burn wood pellets and claim to be "sustainable."

Once again van der Vaart finds himself on the wrong side of an issue, for all the wrong reasons, but he fits right in at JLF.

Duke Energy

Regarding the comments by van der Vaart about solar power on the comment above, this reminds me of the situation with a gas tax increase proposal a few years ago when gas prices hit $4. A few Democrats suggested increasing the gas tax by a penny or two per gallon. The GOP immediately kicked in their propaganda machine, claiming that those pennies would cause manufacturers to shutter their factories, tourists to avoid NC like the plague, workers parking their cars and walking to work, and other various horror stories. What they never mentioned was the extra $1.50 a gallon being reaped by oil companies and foreign governments, creating records profits for Exxon and other oil companies. No, it was those two cents that would wreck the NC economy.

Just like a few pennies to support solar and wind power will cause me to skip turning on the lights at night, but doubling the sales tax on a luxury like electric power so the wealthy and corporations can get big income tax cuts (and cuts in environmental regulations that may poison me) are just signs of progress. While the sales tax on essentials like yachts still has a ridiculously low cap that was not increased.