Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 12

Winston-Salem Journal on the settlement forcing an energy company to move its stores of coal ash:

The dirty secret about coal is that it is neither as cheap or efficient an energy source as we once believed.

Coal fouls the air, promotes climate change and is both dangerous and unhealthy to extract through mining.

When burned to create steam to generate electricity, it also leaves behind a potentially toxic byproduct called coal ash.

The bill for those unsavory side effects inevitably was going to come due. And in 2014, it did. A breach at a Duke Energy “pond” that stored coal ash near Eden spilled 39,000 tons of the sludge into the Dan River.

In the aftermath, Duke Energy agreed to close its coal ash storage sites throughout North Carolina. The question was how.

Now, in a historic settlement announced on Jan. 2, Duke Energy has agreed to excavate the contents of most of its remaining open and unlined coal ash lagoons in the state and to put it instead in dry, lined landfills, where it is unlikely to contaminate groundwater.

In a few instances, coal ash will remain in previously permitted landfills — but with new protections added.

The 33-page agreement doesn’t involve the site near Eden. Most of the coal ash there was removed under a previous agreement.

But it does involve more than 76 million tons of coal ash at other sites and ends a bitter struggle.

To put it plainly, everybody wins.

Man considered armed and dangerous last seen near

Greensboro store; he's wanted in connection with alleged pistol-whipping of girlfriend

As BH Media’s Taft Wireback reported, the settlement saves Duke Energy about $1.5 billion. The utility also avoids a long, expensive legal battle and will not have to remove coal ash that is buried in pits in Catawba and Person counties.

At the same time, the agreement provides peace of mind for environmentalists and communities near the affected sites. The settlement directly affects the Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County and includes five other still-active or now-closed coal-fired plants in other parts of North Carolina.

Specifically, at the Belews Creek site, the agreement calls for Duke Energy to:

Extensively monitor the surface and groundwater near the plant for contamination.

Leave 100,000 tons of coal ash buried in a capped landfill near Belews Creek.

Recycle some of the coal ash, if the utility chooses, for industrial uses, such as making concrete.

Communities near the sites had been skeptical of Duke Energy’s assurances that capping coal ash pits in place was just as effective as moving the ash to dry, lined landfills. The Southern Environmental Law Center represented several community groups that had legally challenged those original plans.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality also had rightly taken a hard-line stance, ordering Duke Energy in 2019 to excavate the remaining ash.

Still to be settled, of course, is who pays for the cleanup.

A Duke Energy spokesman told NC Policy Watch: “At the appropriate time the company will seek permission from the North Carolina Utilities Commission to put these costs into rates.”

That means passing the costs to customers for the utility’s missteps, which understandably won’t sit well with many North Carolinians.

To be sure, the agreement is a welcome and significant milestone. But the debate is far from over.

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

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Jan. 12

Wilmington StarNews on debunking myths about wind-power turbines:

Sometimes, President Trump seems crazy like a fox, playing his biggest supporters, biggest critics and many in the news media the way Charlie Daniels plays his fiddle, goading the opposition into tactical errors.

Then, other times, he seems rather like Uncle Bub at the Christmas party, railing on about Viet Cong nail salons infiltrating the mall.

The president was at it again over the holidays when -- along with low-flush toilets and energy-saving light bulbs -- he went off on a riff against wind-power turbines.

Why Mr. Trump has a bee in his bonnet against wind power, no one really knows. Some pundits date it from a few years back, when the Scottish government tried to plant wind turbines near one of his golf courses.

In any case, Mr. Trump will throw any argument he can against wind power. Many of those arguments, frankly, don’t hold water.

Last year, he claimed wind turbines cause cancer, which was news to medical researchers.

More recently, Mr. Trump has been grieving for all the birds, bald eagles, and all, shredded to bits by those vicious rotating blades.

There’s a little truth here. The Audubon Society estimates that between 140,000 and 330,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines. That’s bad. Scientists, however, point out that the toll is a tiny fraction compared to the billion -- that’s 1,000,000,000 -- birds killed each year by running into buildings, especially glass-covered or illuminated skyscrapers.

(Some of those buildings have T-R-U-M-P spelled out on the side, in large lettering.)

The president was also concerned about “fumes.” Manufacturing wind turbines, he said, creates fumes, toxic wastes that float off into the air.

Well, to a point ... Those “fumes,” however, are minuscule, compared with the tons of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals and other noxious stuff spewing from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, which Mr. Trump professes to love dearly. (And don’t even get us started on coal ash ...)

Mr. Trump loves to tell the cautionary fable of Earl and Opal, who can’t watch their beloved FOX News because the wind isn’t blowing, so their TV set won’t work.

Well, true, the wind doesn’t blow everywhere all the time, but it blows regularly enough, in enough places, to make it worth a go. Orville and Wilbur Wright, for example, picked North Carolina’s Outer Banks for their airplane experiments because of its near-constant wind. In the 1970s. NASA built one of the first experimental wind turbines on Howard’s Knob near Boone, N.C., where steady 25 mph breezes prevailed.

Now wind turbines are sprouting like giant mushrooms across Kansas and other Plains states, where they vote Republican, but where wind power just makes sense. Travelers in Europe can see hundreds of wind turbines from their rail cars; governments there would rather rely on the wind than on Vladimir Putin’s hand on the intake for their oil and gas pipelines.

Our president’s feud with wind power would be so much covfefe, except that his attitude trickle down to underlings. Republicans in North Carolina’s General Assembly, for example, keep trying to ban wind turbines from most of eastern North Carolina, in the theory that these would interfere with military operations out of Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base and elsewhere. This threat appears to be news to the Pentagon.

Fortunately, those bills have been voted down or otherwise quashed so far. Wind power can’t answer all of America’s energy needs, but it fulfills a lot of the bill. One study, for example, estimates that wind power could generate nearly 300 million kilowatts of electricity, enough power to turn on 11 million LED lights.

We can’t afford to throw that away.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/

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Jan. 10

The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina's response to a Trump Administration refugee resettlement executive order:

Last September, President Trump announced Executive Order 13888, which required state and local governments to opt in to having refugees settle in their jurisdiction. The move was the president’s latest attempt to curtail immigration, both legal and illegal, and it also posed an important question to the country: Do we want to join Donald Trump in his quest for a whiter America?

In North Carolina, the answer thus far has been a clear no.

Led by Gov. Roy Cooper, who submitted a letter in December affirming the state’s consent to resettle refugees, several North Carolina cities and counties — including Mecklenburg, Wake and Forsyth — have declined to take the president up on his offer to ban refugee settlement. The state Department of Health and Human Services, which has helped some local governments craft their consent letters, knows of no local governments that have declared they will not accepting refugees, DHHS spokesperson Chris Mackey told the editorial board this week.

The same is true across the country, where there reportedly are just a handful of local governments — plus one state, Texas —that have decided to ban refugee settlement. There’s still time for others to declare their intentions before a Jan. 21 deadline — Union County is among those in North Carolina mulling the decision, sources tell the editorial board — and governments that don’t provide written consent will be presumed by federal officials to be closed to refugees. So much uncertainty remains for refugees and refugee organizations.

There’s also some question about whether Trump’s executive order is even legal. Opponents of the measure, who are challenging it in court, say that refugee settlement is a federal issue and that state and local governments have no say in the matter.

What’s certain is that the executive order has created confusion and fear among refugee organizations, which are scrambling to ensure their local governments will continue to accept refugees. In Mecklenburg County, officials were apparently unaware of the need to address Executive Order 13888 until they were alerted late last year by an official from a long-time Charlotte resettlement agency. Mecklenburg Manager Dena Diorio, with the help of DHHS, crafted and signed the letter Dec. 19.

The executive order is one of several measures the Trump administration has taken to limit immigration, including measures that close doors U.S. has long offered to legally enter the country. Last year, Trump announced plans to reduce the number of refugees allowed in the United States this year to 18,000. In 2019 the cap was 30,000, down from the 110,000 President Barack Obama said should be allowed in 2016.

The targets of these policies and proposals share at least one thing — they’re not part of the America that Donald Trump wants, the one that is whiter and believes immigrants threaten our culture and way of life. But the rejection thus far of Trump’s executive order shows that Americans largely don’t agree. We understand that refugees and other immigrants make significant contributions — both culturally and economically — to our cities and communities. We believe there is both joy and obligation in sharing this country’s bounty and freedom, especially with those fleeing untenable and dangerous circumstances.

As Cooper in his letter in December: “North Carolina was one of the first states to welcome refugees to the United States after the United States Refugee Act was signed into law in 1980. Our state has a strong network of community and faith-based groups which aid in resettlement of refugees who seek safety from persecution.”

We’re thankful that so far, most of North Carolina doesn’t want that to change.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/