scharrison's blog

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke's attorneys go on the attack as hearings wind down

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Also claiming unlined pits were once considered a "feature" and not recklessly negligent:

Duke Energy blasted its opponents in a final regulatory filing Friday, saying they leaned on "simplistic crutches," false analysis and a Pollyanna hindsight to argue against the company's bid to raise electricity rates enough to cover clean up costs at the company's coal ash ponds.

The company complied with existing laws and industry standards when it left wet ash in unlined pits for decades, they said. At one point "the lack of a liner was considered a feature, rather than a flaw" because soil would filter out contaminants, the company said. Impact on groundwater wasn't initially a concern "because the ash basins were built more than a decade before the adoption of any federal or state regulation related to groundwater corrective action," attorneys argued.

Here's a quick primer for those who may not be aware how environmental statutes and regulations come into being: There is (or has been) usually a period of 10-20 years where contamination is discovered, investigated, then viciously fought-over in civil court, before the demands for government regulation grow to the point some rule or law is put into place to stop it. And during that pre-regulation phase, you can be damned sure attorneys for companies like Duke Energy were well aware of what was going on, and what needed to be done to improve those impoundments. Luckily for us, Josh Stein isn't drinking their arsenic-tainted Kool-Aid, and his legal opposition is definitely not pro-forma:

Court rejects NC Republicans' request for "Stay" on gerrymandering order

Because doing what's right is never a burden:

Judges James A. Wynn, William L. Osteen and W. Earl Britt of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the lawmakers had failed to meet the “heavy burden” required to stay the order.

They found that the lawmakers' "motion does not dispute this court’s unanimous conclusions that” the map had resulted in partisan gerrymandering, and ordering that it be redrawn. The judges also found that staying the ruling would not injure the lawmakers, but “would substantially injure — indeed irreparably harm — Plaintiffs.”

In any sane world, Republicans would be seriously re-evaluating their affinity and reliance on bent redistricting to buttress their power. But instead, they're gearing up to bring their funky map-making skills to the Judicial Branch. They honestly have no shame.

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Check off NC Senate District 45:

Still a lot of empty slots, folks. Keep working the Blue Wave.

On the dire need for an overhaul of Minimum Wage

Times have changed, for the worse:

Only one-in-five workers earning minimum wage are teenagers now, and about the same percentage of people are married. About 60 percent of workers earning minimum wage or less are working part-time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to work. Many want but can’t find full-time work.

Most of the others are constrained by child care, health problem, or school schedules from working more. If we think about those individuals who would see a benefit from an increase, the average worker is older, less likely to be working for discretionary income and more likely to be supporting a family.

Bolding mine. Not trying to insult your intelligence, but since I've had to explain the meaning of the word "discretionary" to college grads about six times in the last few years, I might as well do it again here. It dates back to the 14th Century, and denotes somebody has the power to "judge or choose" courses of action. Often tied with "age of ascension" in certain cultures granting adult status. But in this context, it means you have the freedom to decide how to spend the money you've earned. And when your rent, utilities, and food requirements outpace your earnings, that choice has already been made for you. I know that's long-winded, but I've heard too many Democrats parrot that "just for teenagers" meme lately when minimum wage comes up, and I wanted to drive a stake in that meme's heart. Something I've also heard, which makes sense on a certain level: "We need to bring back the EITC to give these folks a boost." Yes. But not as an alternative to a minimum wage increase. Why not? Because the EITC is taken from tax revenues, and not from the private-sector employer who *should* be paying better. And before you say that next thing:

The difficulties of getting young people engaged in political activism

Answering the question that has been circulating lately:

As Women's March organizers prepare for another round of events on Jan. 20 and 21, research shows that few young people share Hahn's excitement for political activism and public protests. Americans ages 15 to 24 are still figuring out their preferred approach to politics, according to the PRRI/MTV 2017 National Youth Survey, released this week.

"A majority of young people describe recent protests and marches negatively, as 'pointless' (16 percent), 'counterproductive' (16 percent), 'divisive' (12 percent), or 'violent' (11 percent.) Only about one-third ascribe positive value to them, saying they are 'inspiring' (16 percent), 'powerful' (16 percent), or 'effective' (4 percent)," the survey reported.

Some of these findings are not really surprising. As much as I hate to use the term "woke," that transformation did not really happen to me until I was in my forties. I may have voted regularly since my late teens, but my knowledge of what I was voting for (or against) was pretty thin, to say the least. At our County Party meeting last night, aside from a couple of small children, the youngest people there were in their thirties, and they were a distinct minority. But before we launch into a "What are we doing wrong?" exercise, it may be them and not us:

Robin Hayes says NC's districts not gerrymandered because they don't look like monsters?

I think he might have fallen during a shuffleboard mishap:

According to the leader of the North Carolina GOP, detecting gerrymandering should be as easy as checking under your bed at night. If you see something that looks like a monster, you’re in trouble. Robin Hayes, chairman of the NC Republican Party, is among many Republicans upset that a panel of federal judges on Tuesday struck down North Carolina’s election districts for U.S. Congress as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

“A ‘gerrymander’ is by definition and common understanding, a strange looking ‘monster’ drawing. This map is clearly not that,” Hayes said. He noted that the maps kept 87 of North Carolina’s 100 counties whole and divided only 12 precincts.

Right, because Elbridge Gerry's map was made to look like a dragon by a clever 19th Century political cartoonist, that is now the standard we're supposed to use. The Monster standard. I think Hayes has gone around the bend, hopped on a unicorn, and rode hard for the border between eccentric and bat-shit crazy. But never fear, NCPOL folks are ever ready to jump on an opportunity for a few laughs:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Duke Energy agrees to pay fines for leaky basins

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But their solution for stopping the leaks may be worse than the leaks themselves:

The country's largest electricity company will pay an $84,000 penalty and work to stop potentially toxic waste from three North Carolina coal-burning power plants from leaking into groundwater and nearby rivers under a deal with state regulators announced Tuesday.

The deal, already signed by a Duke Energy Corp. executive, includes the penalty for nearly two dozen leaky spots detected at coal ash pits at the Rogers, Allen and Marshall power plants before 2015. The agreement acknowledges the leaks from unlined, earthen holding basins at the power plants into the adjoining Catawba and Broad rivers, a violation of pollution laws.

Here's the proposed consent order itself, which is in a pdf format that does not allow copy-and-paste so you'll have to go and read the thing. While this does represent some progress, there are also some trade-offs in there with which I am not happy. The first (and least of my concerns) is that after this agreement is signed and agreed to, those toxic leaks will fall under the category of "permitted" discharges. Meaning, if their future fixes don't work like they think they will, it will be a lot harder to punish Duke Energy for the continued contamination. But it's really the fix itself that has me worried:

Breaking: Court rules NC Congressional maps be redrawn by the end of January

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