2/29/2016: NC Senators earn failing grades on National Scorecard

Our U.S. Senators’ environmental scores are an embarrassment. This week in CIB.

Washington Watch: Failing Senators

“Failing” is too weak a term to describe a score of 4% on a scale of 100—but that’s the score earned by both of North Carolina’s elected delegates to the United States Senate on the just-released 2015 National Environmental Scorecard by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, go to the back of the class, please.

What exactly did our “Terrible Two” do to earn this woeful grade? Among other poor decisions, they voted to sell off our public lands, including wildlife refuges and national forests, to private interests for oil and gas drilling and logging. They voted to keep intact the “Halliburton Loophole” which has allowed fracking to avoid regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. More broadly, they sided with the intense assault being waged on our air, water, lands, wildlife, and climate by what is described by LCV President Gene Karpinski as “the most anti-environmental Congress in American history.”

LCV’s 2015 Scorecard included 25 votes in the Senate. These included its first order of business in the year’s session, a bill approving the “dirty and dangerous” Keystone XL pipeline.

Fortunately, the US Senate contained champions of our environment as well. In combination with the veto pen of President Barack Obama, most dangerous anti-environmental moves (including the Keystone pipeline) were blocked in the Senate (sometimes with the aid of a presidential veto).

Beyond our state’s failing Senators, North Carolina’s US House delegation contained both environmental failures and champions. NCLCV’s hats are off to Representatives David Price (100%), Alma Adams (97%), and G.K. Butterfield (91%).

Nationally, there was a very wide gap between average Democratic and Republican scores. On the Republican side of North Carolina’s delegation, Rep. Walter Jones Jr. was occasionally willing to buck his party’s negative leadership to earn a 17% score. Meanwhile, seven of his House colleagues from North Carolina earned flat zero scores: Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, David Rouzer, Richard Hudson, Robert Pittenger, Patrick McHenry, and George Holding. The others were in single digits.

The full LCV 2015 National Environmental Scorecard, with interactive functions to get the details on your representatives’ voting record, can be found here. LCV and NCLCV will be working again this year to hold our elected representatives accountable for their environmental actions. You can start the process by reviewing your representatives’ scores.

Administrative Watch: Coal Ash Hearings Start March 1

NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tomorrow (Tuesday, March 1). The March 1 public hearings will take place simultaneously in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington.

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.

Campaign Watch: Filibustering Flint

As we all know, the presidential campaign is in full roar. One classic case of environmental injustice—the poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s public water supply—is getting deserved attention from candidates anxious to show that they understand the importance Americans put on clean drinking water and the health of our children.

Meanwhile, one of the leading presidential contenders—Texas Senator Ted Cruz—appears to have rushed to ally himself on the side of pollution. Incredibly, Cruz is reported to have placed a “hold” on consideration of bipartisan legislation which includes funds for Flint to address its polluted water crisis. Cruz’s objection was reported to relate to the provision assisting Flint.

Under the arcane rules of the Senate, in many cases a single senator can be allowed to delay legislation or appointment nominations for an indefinite time. Such “holds” are not a matter of public record, and both the general public and the media can be left speculating on the responsible party unless another senator blows the whistle.

LCV President Gene Karpinski reacted to the reports of Cruz’s intransigence with the statement that “Clean drinking water is a right, not a privilege. Sen. Cruz is playing politics with the Flint crisis—it is simply despicable to hold up this bipartisan aid package while the people of Flint continue to suffer.”

Fortunately, public scrutiny appeared to have a positive impact on the shady maneuvering. Subsequent news stories reported that the Cruz “hold” had been lifted.

We checked Cruz’s 2015 LCV National Environmental Scorecard rating to see if the Flint controversy was out of character with his more general approach. Apparently not: Cruz’s 2015 environmental score was 0%.

Coast Watch: Virginia’s Lt. Governor Opposes Drilling

Stepping away from the stance of other statewide officials in Virginia last week, that state’s Lieutenant Governor, Ralph Northam, asked federal officials to remove Virginia from plans for offshore drilling for oil and gas.

In taking that stand, Northam is the highest-ranking Virginia state official to press for protection of his state’s coastal resources and environment from the hazards of offshore drilling. Northam points out that not only does Virginia have the tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture economies to protect, it also has a growing space launch industry that would be jeopardized by oil and gas facilities in its hazard range.

Northam is expected to be a leading candidate for governor in 2017, so his public hard line against offshore drilling should serve as wake-up to Virginia’s other officials. The smart evaluation of future public opinion on this key issue is “no drilling.” Northam put another crack in the foundation of mid-Atlantic governors’ ill-advised push to risk the future of our coast.

That’s our report for this week.