Weekly Conservation Bulletin
It's Halloween, and community leaders are asking Durham to treat itself to improved transit. This week in CIB -- Campaign Watch: Leaders Cheer for Transit; Administrative Watch: Public Pans Duke Rate Hike; Education & Resources: New NCLCV Websites Are Interactive
Campaign Watch: Leaders Cheer for Transit
Community leaders are asking Durham County voters to move their community--and our state--forward on improved, greener transportation systems. In a rare show of unity, Durham's "big three" political groups are all actively supporting approval of the proposed half-cent sales tax to finance public transit alternatives, including bus system improvements and passenger rail links to other Research Triangle cities.
The influential community groups backing the transit referendum are the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the Friends of Durham, and the People's Alliance. The Friends of Durham, the most conservative of the three groups, says that it has been convinced by the economic development value of the program. Other supporters of the program cite its creation of more transportation choices and its encouragement of sustainable land development and redevelopment patterns as well.
At a forum last week held in support of the referendum, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx told attendees that Charlotte's new and growing light rail system has already drawn an additional $1.4 billion in private-sector business development to the city. One of the key selling points for investing in new passenger rail lines is the way in which economic development is spurred in the corridors served by rail. They attract both new residential and commercial development.
Charlotte's transit system expansion has been made possible by a similar half-cent sales tax. It was approved by voters there in 1998, and recently overwhelmingly re-approved by the voters, after opponents managed to gather enough petitions to put it back on the ballot for another vote. While rail service is increasingly popular with the public at large, there remains a vociferous core of well-funded opposition, driven by ideological objections to any public investment that decreases reliance on the individual automobile as an exclusive transportation option.
Both the Durham City Council (and Mayor) and the Durham County Board of Commissions back the transit financing referendum. Supporters of sustainable development patterns and greener transportation alternatives around the state are watching this referendum with particular interest, and pulling for its passage on November 8. Four other counties in North Carolina are now eligible by state law to consider similar referenda: Wake, Orange, Guilford, and Foryth. Approval of the Durham referendum will bring momentum to the passenger rail restoration movement in our state. (Some of the information for this item has been taken from the Durham Herald-Sun website.)
Administrative Watch: Public Pans Duke Rate Hike
The N.C. Utilities Commission is getting an earful of public objections to Duke Energy's proposed rate hike. The outcry is notable not just for its strength and unanimity, but also by the fact that people are showing up in towns not normally known for populist leanings.
The McDowell News reported 10/26/11 that "Hundreds of people packed the main courtroom at the McDowell County Courthouse to capacity Tuesday evening to show their strong opposition to Duke Energy's request for another rate hike." That's in the conservative small mountain town of Marion, which sent its city manager to present an official city resolution in opposition to the rate hike. The opposition combined speakers objecting to the economic impact of the proposed hike, with speakers who particularly objected to how much of the hike would go to support the expansion of reliance on coal and nuclear power.
Further west, the Franklin Press (10/27/11) reported that the Macon County Courthouse was packed the following evening, and that "citizens were essentially unanimous in their opposition" to the rate hike.
A day later, another hundred people "filled the council chambers at High Point City Hall...and, with few exceptions, expressed their displeasure to the N.C. Utilities Commission over rate increases proposed by Duke Energy Corp." Winston-Salem Journal, 10/28/11. At the High Point hearing, some speakers took special exception to one of the other bases for the rate hike request: reduced demand for electricity. Joey Edens of Kernersville observed, "It's not right to tell people to conserve, conserve, conserve, and then try to justify a rate increase in part because people are using less electricity." (CIB notes that this also tends to undercut utility claims that it needs new nuclear units to support demand growth.)
One more public hearing remains in the series. That will be in Durham this Wednesday, November 2, starting at 7 p.m. at Durham City Hall. More on the rate hike request from an environmental standpoint, together with information on how to submit comments, is available at http://appvoices.org/duke-energy-rate-hike/ Following the conclusion of the public hearings, the Utilities Commission will begin its expert evidentiary hearings on the rate hike request.
Education & Resources: New NCLCV Websites Are Interactive
NCLCV's online presence has a new look and new features. The old static homepage made a nice screensaver, but beyond the pretty picture didn't have much to draw back a visitor. The new site updates frequently, with tweets, news releases, and other articles. NCLCV's marketing director Debra Davis Rezelli calls it "super dynamic with relevant and timely news and resources."
Go on, check it out. You know you want to see whether we're yanking your chain or if it's really as spiffy as we think. www.nclcv.org And when you've explored that, you may want to take a look at the latest on our foundation and Conservation Political Action Committee sites as well: www.nclcvf.org and www.conservationpac.org.