Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
Star-News of Wilmington on a proposed settlement between officials and a chemical-maker accused of polluting a river:
State environmental regulators want to sign off on a deal that effectively provides cover for Chemours and leaves the Wilmington area out in the rain. Our local and state officials, residents who care about the safety of our water supply, and utility customers who think they shouldn't have to pick up the tab for damage caused by a Fortune 500 company need to make their voices heard.
At first glance, the proposed settlement with Chemours has some good points, but only if you live close to the Fayetteville-area plant. The consent order requires Chemours to make things right for the people whose wells are tainted with PFAS compounds.
As for the 300,000 people in the Wilmington area whose water comes from the Cape Fear River? Nothing to worry about — the state already has taken steps to protect downstream communities, says Sheila Holman, a senior official at the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
If the consent order is approved by a Bladen County Superior Court judge, the state will consider the GenX issue resolved.
Well, we don't consider it resolved. Neither do the local water utilities that are spending millions to filter out the chemicals Chemours illegally discharged into the river. And, we suspect, neither do the customers who will pay for those water-treatment upgrades, and residents still worried that their health has been compromised.
No worries, says Holman — Chemours is required to capture its wastewater and ship it away.
Yet, there's this: After being assured by the company that all manufacturing wastewater gets taken away, recent tests show that the plant is still releasing PFAS into the river. At the location where most of our water is drawn from, the PFAS concentration is above what's considered safe.
Additionally, Chemours has been operating under an expired pollution-discharge permit, and the state won't consider an application for a new one because it is waiting on additional scientific data. That information is to be gathered sometime in the future. Only then, Holman said, can the state "make absolutely sure that whatever permit is issued will be protective of public health ..." Those are significant unresolved issues.
This proposed consent order would close the door too soon and on too many people. We hope DEQ will reconsider its position, or that the judge will agree that the proposal is inadequate, premature and, we'd suggest, violates our Constitutional guarantee to equal protection ...
The Fayetteville Observer on federal flood insurance:
While the National Flood Insurance Program covers only 134,000 households our of North Carolina's 3.8 million, it will likely pay for repairs costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Add all the damage in other states this year, from Florence and later from Hurricane Michael, which flattened many oceanfront communities along the Florida Panhandle and then tore through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The totals will be breathtaking, especially after the other monster storms of the past two years.
Nationally, the flood insurance program covers about 5 million residential and commercial properties. And like many of those buildings in recent years, the insurance system is under water too. It's deep in the red — about $20 billion in debt, even after Congress approved a $16 billion write-off last year. Despite that, members of Congress this month reauthorized the program.
While flood insurance isn't as heavily subsidized as it was in previous years, homeowners in flood-prone areas tend to get far greater benefits for their premiums than they pay in. An Associated Press investigation recently showed that nearly 37,000 properties from the Carolinas to California have repeatedly been flooded and rebuilt — some of them dozens of times — with the federal insurance program's help. About 18,000 of those properties are currently covered by the program and 15,000 of them haven't taken any voluntary steps to reduce their future risk, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The repeatedly flooded properties have cost nearly $7.5 billion in claims, before the start of this hurricane season.
If climate scientists' predictions of more intense hurricanes are correct, the flood insurance program will go even deeper into debt and require even more taxpayer bailouts. And in many cases, the funds are going to expensive shorefront properties that are obviously at risk.
Instead of continuing to act as a traditional insurance program, it may be time to rethink it. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued FEMA to get data about the program, warns that the perennially damaged properties are "the canary in the coal mine for the millions of properties in the U.S. that are going to be in the exact same situation in future decades." FEMA of all federal agencies should know better than to engage in climate-change denial, and it should recognize the need to take a more proactive stance — requiring preventive actions like raising homes on stilts or even buying out the most vulnerable properties and relocating the owners.
For the properties most likely to sustain damage, flood insurance premiums should be more appropriate for the risk. The median premium in 2016 was only $520, or $10 a week. Most of the properties that have been repeatedly flooded and rebuilt are worth an average of $115,000 but the damage claims averaged $150,000. Over and over again.
Coastal residents certainly need the help provided by the federal flood insurance program, but when a home or business is flooded half a dozen or even a dozen times, and rebuilt after every flooding, that's a clear waste of taxpayer money. At some point, federal officials need to declare that some places just aren't fit for human habitation anymore. That may mean entire communities having to move to higher ground, but as sea levels rise, flooding becomes more frequent and storms grow more intense, that may be the best possible use of federal money.
The Charlotte Observer on the 9th Congressional District race unsettled amid an investigation into alleged absentee ballot fraud:
In the week since the state Board of Elections declined to certify the results of North Carolina's 9th Congressional District election, journalists and others have begun to fill in the details of a troubling case of apparent ballot fraud. In Bladen County — and perhaps other counties — individuals have interfered with the voting process by gaining access to others' absentee ballots, according to witnesses and records. Investigators also are looking into the burgeoning scandal.
There may be no way, however, to know how widespread the fraud was, or whether it involved enough ballots to potentially change the outcome of the election — a 905-vote victory for Republican Mark Harris over Democrat Dan McCready. But we do know enough. Unless new evidence somehow clears the clouds hanging over this election, the Board of Elections should toss out the 9th District results.
Calling for a new election would be an enormously significant decision for the board. It should be done with the support of N.C. statutes and without a whiff of partisan politics. Republicans from Raleigh to Washington would surely howl; already, they've noted that the number of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County falls short of the overall margin of victory in the 9th.
This is true. But witnesses have said that their ballots, which were collected by individuals apparently working for ringleader McCrae Dowless, were never submitted to the county or state. There's little certainty about how many ballots were wrongly tossed or destroyed in Bladen County (there were more than 1,500 that were requested but unreturned) or how much Dowless and his workers may have done the same in neighboring Robeson County, as reports suggest. It might have been enough to change the outcome of the race. It might not have been.
That possibility, however, triggers a statutory threshold for holding a new election. North Carolina General Statute 163A-1180 authorizes the Board of Elections to intervene and "take any other action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election." The board should call for a new NC-09 general election. The U.S. House can and should order a new primary, given that results show Harris winning a startling 96 percent of the Bladen absentee vote in his narrow 2018 primary victory over then incumbent Robert Pittenger.
Questions remain about how much Harris knew about the work being done on his behalf. Both he and his chief consultant, Andy Yates, contend they weren't aware of any election fraud in the 9th District, but Dowless was well-known as a dicey figure in N.C. political circles. He's a convicted felon who had been investigated for similar fraud in 2016, and he even was featured nationally in a This American Life episode. Harris, at the least, should have seen the smoke.
Voters in the 9th District deserve the confidence that their election was free from fraud. North Carolina statute supports it. The evidence already demands it. The Board of Elections should start the election over.