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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Coal ash, poet laureates & bus drivers — it's a long, hot summer

Posted By on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 10:53 AM

If you're thinking it’s the middle of the long, hot summer, and nothing’s going on, well, we’ve got news for you. Things are so busy we need to do a quick update today regarding the latest developments on several stories we’ve previously reported:

* If you’re a Duke Energy shareholder, you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief at the news that the Environmental Protection Agency pronounced the sight of one of the country’s worst-ever polluting disasters - a nasty coal-ash spill into the Dan River in February - resolved! Fixed! And Duke followed the EPA’s announcement by declaring it’s clean-up work there “finished.” Great news, right?

Not so fast. The EPA’s Myles Bartos told the Danville, Va. City Council Tuesday night that while more than 600 water samples taken from the river since the spill have consistently shown the water to be safe to drink, the river has “historical” environmental quality issues, including lead, arsenic, selenium and PCBs. He acknowledged that Duke is not being required to clean those up since they “were not responsible for creating them.” And the Virginia Dept. of Health’s warning about the quality of fish from the river as not being safe to eat remains the same as it was prior to the February spill. So - drink that with a bit of salt!

Meanwhile, closer to home, and still on Duke’s agenda, is the war over who will be responsible for picking up the much larger tab for the costs of cleaning up Duke’s coal-ash mess across the state, estimated at $10 billion. This morning, North Carolina environmental activists including Greenpeace and Charlotte Environmental Action presented Thom Tillis’ Senate campaign staff with a big, fake check in that amount. The check, supposedly signed by Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, is “compensation” for Tillis’ efforts “to weaken the recent coal ash bill,” calling it, in a press release, a handout to Duke Energy. “The bill does not require Duke to clean up 10 locations where coal ash is stored across the state and instead allows the ash to be left in place. Duke would also be able to pass along the costs associated with any cleanup to NC residents in the form of a rate increase.”

* On another front, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is apparently feeling some of the sting of the overwhelming criticism of the process he followed in choosing a new state poet laureate, and of the person he chose, Valerie Macon, as reported here Tuesday.

McCrory did not follow long-standing tradition in going through experts in the field such as the N.C. School of the Arts, who usually provides a list of possible names for his consideration. His choice of Macon was especially disturbing to many in that she is not an established writer, having only self-published two books of poetry. She is also an employee in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, working as a disability determination specialist.

McCrory finally broke his silence on the matter by telling the Associated Press yesterday, “We had a staff process to go through poets throughout the state, and I looked at those recommendations and made my decision. We’re going to be reviewing that process. We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place. It wasn’t written down anywhere on the walls.”

When he was then advised that the guidelines for that process were on the state’s Arts Council website, McCrory replied, “We must have missed that website.” (In McCrory’s defense, that website is currently undergoing renovations, and some of the sections on the selection process are now not available, but it is not clear that was the case when McCrory was making his choice of a new Poet Laureate.)

* While the Republicans controlling the state House and Senate continue squabbling among themselves, and with the Governor, over how to cover a major gap in the state’s budget, one of the items on the line - any raises in teacher pay - continues to be on life-support. The House (and Governor) insist that a 6 percent raise is enough, as opposed to the Senate’s latest offer of 8 percent, down from their previous preferences of 13, or 11 percent. But what’s not gotten much notice is that the higher the increased pay, the more teacher-assistant jobs will need to be eliminated - and in some areas of the state, those teacher assistants are also bus drivers. And no one has an answer as to who will cover those responsibilities - with the August new school year about to begin.

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