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CIB 8/15/2016: McCrory doubles down on dirty water

NCLCV announces endorsements slate, plus McCrory’s toxic water scandal just gets deeper. This week in CIB:

Campaign Watch: Conservation PAC Endorses 25 Leaders

NCLCV’s Conservation PAC last week announced its main slate of environmental leader endorsements for the general election. The list of endorsees now includes 18 for the NC House, six for the NC Senate, and two statewide.
On the statewide ballot for November, NCLC’s Conservation PAC named Josh Stein as the candidate to support for NC Attorney General. Stein will bring a strong record as a legislator (86% career pro-environment voting score) and a continued commitment to public health and a clean environment to an office that has been critical to protecting both in our state.

Conservation PAC had already endorsed incumbent NC Attorney General Roy Cooper in his bid for NC Governor, based in large part on Cooper’s record in that office as an active and effective champion for clean air in our state.
In last week’s new endorsement announcement, most of the attention goes to two dozen present and potential leaders for high environmental quality in the NC General Assembly.

“After another legislative session where elected officials proposed gutting clean air and water safeguards, attempted to dismantle North Carolina’s clean energy sector, and failed to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up toxic coal ash, the need for pro-conservation leaders is crystal clear,” said Dan Crawford, NCLCV’s director of governmental relations. “We support candidates who will prioritize public health and environmental protections during their time in Raleigh – a stark contrast to many current elected officials.”

Conservation PAC endorses the following candidates for General Assembly (NC’s state legislature):

North Carolina House:
Joe Parrish – HD2 (Granville, Person)
Charlie Pat Farris – HD8 (Pitt, Wilson)
Brian Farkas – HD9 (Pitt)
Steve Unger – HD16 (Onslow, Pender)
Rich Nixon – HD26 (Johnston)
Terence Everitt – HD35 (Wake)
Jen Ferrell – HD36 (Wake)
Joe John – HD40 (Wake)
Rep. Gale Adcock – HD41 (Wake)
Cynthia Ball – HD49 (Wake)
Rep. Brad Salmon – HD51 (Harnett, Lee)
Mary Belk – HD88 (Mecklenburg)
Chaz Beasley – HD92 (Mecklenburg)
Sue Counts – HD93 (Ashe, Watauga)
Rochelle Rivas – HD103 (Mecklenburg)
Rep. John Ager – HD115 (Buncombe)
Rep. Brian Turner – HD116 (Buncombe)
Rhonda Schandevel – HD118 (Haywood, Madison, Yancey)

North Carolina Senate:
Brownie Futrell – SD1 (Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans)
Susan Evans – SD17 (Wake)
Gil Johnson – SD18 (Franklin, Wake)
Toni Morris – SD19 (Cumberland)
Michael Garrett – SD27 (Guilford)
Jane Hipps – SD50 (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain)

NCLCV’s Conservation PAC makes endorsements based on the environmental voting and leadership records of incumbent legislators, issue questionnaire responses from candidates, and other background information. The full news release for these endorsements can be found here.


Executive Watch: Davies’ Resignation Deepens McCrory’s Toxic Water Scandal

Dr. Megan Davies, State Epidemiologist and an environmental scientist of unchallenged professional credentials, last week resigned her state post with a scathing public letter, stating “I cannot work for a department and administration that deliberately misleads the public.”

Davies explains in her letter that the op-ed written by two political-level staff in the McCrory Administration’s Departments of Health and Human Services (Randall Williams) and Environmental Quality (Tom Reeder) “presents a false narrative” of the process followed to set a public health protection standard for hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing toxin found at dangerous levels in the water supply wells of many residents near Duke Energy coal ash pits.

That “false narrative” untruthfully portrays State Toxicologist Kenneth Rudo as “a lone scientist…acting independently” to set the standard, which the McCrory administration is attempting to disavow. Davies continues, “In fact, and as I briefed you [current HHS Secretary Richard Brajer] in August 2015, NCDHHS followed a process that engaged [departmental] leadership in all decisions.” Davies continues to describe the scientific process and rationale for the stronger standard used in cautioning well users not to drink or use the contaminated water.

This “false narrative” is also key to the defense of their decision to override their own scientists’ advice and tell well owners that the contaminated water was actually safe to use.

Davies’ resignation letter effectively shreds any remaining public doubts regarding the credibility of the McCrory Administration’s continued deceptions regarding both Rudo’s honesty, and the underlying dispute over the Administration’s attempted cover-up of toxic well water dangers to the public.

Rudo last week also continued a clear and credible defense of his own actions and statements. He explained to the public his participation in re-examining and recalculating the appropriate risk factors for hexavalent chromium following the 2014 passage of new state legislation regarding coal ash and public health risks.

In combination, the Davies and Rudo statements make the Williams/Reeder editorial, and the attack by McCrory Chief of Staff Thomas Stith against Rudo’s honesty, appear as nothing more than political smears against a conscientious scientist, whose work helps to expose an administration’s public health failures.

To recap key parts of the story from last week, the McCrory Administration attacks on Rudo followed the release in court filings of parts of the transcript of Rudo’s deposition (sworn out-of-court testimony in a pre-trial process) in a case against Duke Energy over coal ash pits.

In the deposition, Rudo is questioned by attorneys for parties to the case. Parties to the case include Duke Energy, the state of North Carolina through its environmental agency, and citizen environmental groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). Rudo detailed a March 2015 meeting with McCrory Administration officials, during which he is called upon to explain why he can’t check off on a letter falsely reassuring contaminated well owners that their water met federal drinking water standards.

It should come as no surprise that some residents impacted by the contaminated well water and misleading state reassurance letters are now calling for the resignation or firing of responsible officials. Editorial writers in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greensboro, and elsewhere are adding their disapproval as well.

CIB notes that in a public health scandal this systematic, and this symptomatic of an administration’s core failings, ultimate responsibility rests at the top. The key needed change is in the office of governor.


Legislative Watch: Real Research or Anti-Environment Politics?

That’s the question. We don’t yet know the answer.

A little-noticed provision buried in the final state budget bill this year allocated up to $13 million over the next four years to set up and operate a policy research center to examine the “environmental and economic components” of natural resource (especially water quality) management, regulation, and technologies. Called the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, the center is to be set up at UNC-Chapel Hill under the direction of Brad Ives, a former assistant secretary at the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

The provisions creating this entity are unusual in their specificity, and in the way they were inserted late into the budget bill instead of passing through a more transparent public review process as free-standing legislation. As a result, the motivations and prospects for the new center remain unusually murky. However, some observers note that the move appears to have grown out of legislators’ response to continuing attacks on state rules for protecting clean water in water supply reservoirs and stressed river basins.

If the new center is permitted to undertake honest scientific research, it could prove to be beneficial to state efforts to protect an irreplaceable natural resource—clean water. On the other hand, if it is used to generate shoddy political attacks on disfavored environmental protection strategies (e.g., nutrient management and riparian buffers), it will create nothing but expensive damage to our environment.

That’s our report for this week.

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