Weekly Conservation Bulletin

02/06/2012

Retirement announcements raise environmental concerns, plus more news, this week in CIB:

  • Campaign Watch: Who Will Take Up the Environmental Torch?
  • Legislative Watch: Voting Process Funding Stuck in Deepfreeze
  • Administrative Watch: Commission Awards Duke Rate Hike
  • Education & Resources: National Environmental Scorecard Coming Soon

Campaign Watch: Who Will Take Up the Environmental Torch?

That's the question in the minds of many observers of environmental policy-making this week, as a wave of the greenest legislators in North Carolina decline to stand for re-election in the face of radically re-engineered district lines.

The latest worrisome retirement announcement came last week from former House Speaker Joe Hackney, long considered the leading environmental champion in the N.C. General Assembly. Redistricting had gerrymandered Hackney into a "double-bunking" of incumbents with fellow legislator Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange).

The newly reconfigured House District 54, Hackney's old district, is likely to see a Democratic primary this May. Likely candidates include Jeff Starkweather of Pittsboro, a longtime citizen activist in Chatham County; and Deb McManus of Siler City, a member of the Chatham County Board of Education. Also rumored to be considering the contest is Sen. Bob Atwater (D-Chatham), another victim of redistricting in his state senate district.

Late and uncertain retirement announcements sparked in part by the redistricting, combined with the decision of other legislators to bid for higher office, are opening an unusual number of spots to new faces. The time for potential candidates to make up their minds is closing fast, however. The filing period for state offices opens at noon Monday, February 13, and will close at noon Wednesday, February 29.

On the Congressional level, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC11) has announced that he will not seek re-election. Shuler's mountain district had been made more Republican through redistricting, but he was still considered by many observers to be a strong candidate for re-election. Although considered a relatively conservative Democrat, Shuler enjoyed a 75 percent positive rating by the national League of Conservation Voters for the most recently scored term. Shuler was well known in his first term in Congress for helping to close the door on the long-lived "Road to Nowhere" project proposal, which would have cut a swath of severe damage through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He also stood against substantial pressure to vote for the House bill to adopt a climate change action plan in 2009.

In statewide races, the field for governor continued to develop. In addition to previously announced candidates, incumbent Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and N.C. Rep. Bill Faison (D-Orange), former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge has declared his candidacy for governor. U.S. Representatives Brad Miller (D-NC13) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC7) have said they are still considering the race, as is former State Treasurer Richard Moore. One big name ruled out a candidacy, former Clinton White House budget advisor and UNC system president Erskine Bowles.

Legislative Watch: Voting Process Funding Stuck in Deepfreeze

Democracy NC and other voting rights groups are calling attention to a bottleneck in funding for elections in North Carolina this year. Up to $4 million in federal funding for the mechanics of elections (early voting sites, for example) is waiting unclaimed because the legislature hasn't authorized its use yet, despite a request from the State Board of Elections for release of the money.

The funding is made available under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 and is intended to help states finance the implementation of federal requirements to help make voting easier and more accessible. Provisional voting procedures, expedited voter registration, and early voting options are among provisions addressed. HAVA was originally passed in an effort to prevent further election fiascoes in the style of the Florida mess of 2000.

Voting rights advocates are concerned that if the funding is rejected, counties will have a more difficult time finding the money to implement these processes, and many voters will be discouraged from taking part as a result. Critics of the N.C. General Assembly's proposed new voter identification requirements argue that making voting more difficult appears to be the objective of legislative leaders who they say are "sitting on" the funds.

Democracy NC, which is sponsoring a rally in Raleigh on this issue on February 16, has prepared a more detailed summary of the issue here: http://www.democracy-nc.org/downloads/HAVAFundsMemo.pdf

Administrative Watch: Commission Awards Duke Rate Hike

The N.C. Utilities Commission has awarded Duke Energy a 7.2 percent rate increase on its North Carolina customers. The percentage increase approved is the one agreed to in a deal recommended by the Commission's Public Staff office and Duke. Duke originally asked for an increase of about 15 percent.

Most of the increased revenues will cover capital expenses associated with new construction and the addition of new equipment on existing plants, as well as bolstering the healthy profit margin guaranteed to Duke stockholders. The rate increase has been vigorously opposed by citizen and business groups and by the N.C. Attorney General.

The Commission's decision can be appealed to the N.C. Court of Appeals. Attorney General Roy Cooper indicated that his office would consider an appeal. In the meantime, the rate hike is set to go into effect this month. Duke has already indicated that it plans to seek another rate hike later this year, when new power plants are scheduled to come into service.

Education & Resources: National Environmental Scorecard Coming Soon

The national League of Conservation Voters' scorecard on the environmental voting record of members of Congress for 2011 is set for release tomorrow (Tuesday, February 7) at 10 a.m. NCLCV will be taking part in release of the lowdown on the record of members of Congress from North Carolina. Those on the CIB email list should receive the early word about the national scorecard. It will also be linked up on the NCLCV website and announced via NCLCV's twitter feed on Tuesday.

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