Leading from the Left

Monday, April 30, 2007

May is Mental Health Month

Thanks to all of you for visiting my blog site during April. Most of my posts during this past 4 weeks were about the environment: energy, global warming, and the like. I appreciate the feedback some of you provided, and--in particular--I appreciate those of you who joined me for a conversation about the environment several weeks ago. You guys had some great ideas!

Between now and the end of May, I will focus mainly on mental health in North Carolina. May is "Mental Health Month" and, according to the Mental Health Association of North Carolina, the US has observed "Mental Health Month" for over 50 years. This seems like a good opportunity to laser in on this issue.

Given the tumult caused by NC's reorganization of mental health delivery, we should probably take a step back and examine the state of treatment in North Carolina. I'll try to research and write about the provision of services, who's falling through the cracks, some of the problems caused by this reorganization, and other topics as they come up.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Legislative Action on Environmental bills

At the begining of the month, I indicated that I'd spend most of April blogging on environmental issues....since the 22nd was Earth Day. I'd thought I'd wrap up the month with a brief update on some of the key environmental bills in the legislature this session.

Hazardous Materials Bill (HB 36). The House Environment committee approved a the hazardous waste bill yesterday. The measure, sponsored by Jennifer Weiss of Cary, is based on recommendations made by the Hazardous Waste Materials Task Force set up by Governor Easley after last October's explosion and fire in Apex.

The bill now moves on to the full House. It will require commercial hazardous waste facilities to renew their permits at least every five years instead of the current 10-year cycle. Additionally, nearby property owners will have to be notified of the permitting process if they live within a quarter-mile of a proposed storage site.

We expect this bill to pass the House.

Organic Economic Opportunities Study (HB 1600). I'm providing minor assistance to Fawn Pattison at Agricultural Resources on an Organic Farming Study bill. The House version has been sponsored by Rep. Bill Faison who chairs the Agribusiness and Agricultural Economy Committee.

Sedimentation Inspectors. The Conservation Council, the organization for which I work, has been very supportive of a provision in the governor's for 7 new sedimentation inspector positions in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We've been working hard to make sure these positions are stay in the budget as it moves through the General Assembly's budgetary meat grinder. The governor has requested these positions every budget cycle since he's been in office, but they're always cut by the legislature. DENR desperately needs this increase as they now only have 32 inspectors to cover 9,100 sites statewide.

Energy. As I've mentioned in previous posts, there are several important bills this year dealing with renewable energy. The two key bills are SB 3 and HB 77, both of which would establish require utilities operating in NC to acquire between 10% and 20% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and landfill gases.

The Senate created a stakeholders process to work out a compromise agreement that all parties could support. The stakeholders include the environmental community, the utilities, and other interested parties. There is growing worry that what will emerge from this process will include things we don't like (I keep hearing rumors about nuclear power, for example). I'm hoping the House bill starts moving soon, because if it passed we'd have significantly more leverage on the Senate side to stave off bad compromises.

Hogs. North Carolina's moratorium on new hog waste lagoons expires this year, so a number of bills have been introduced that would permanently prohibit new lagoons from being constructed. Some bills are better than others. The Senate passed Sen. Charlie Albertson's swine bill. It's not a bad bill, but Carolyn Justice's bill in the House is stronger (HB 1115) mainly because it creates a fund to provide clean water for people whose wells have been contaminated--this is a huge environmental justice issue. A coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups is working for passage of Justice's bill. In addition to providing clean water for those with contaminated wells, H1115 will 1) permanently ban new lagoons and sprayfields, 2) help farmers who implement cleaner technologies, and 3) protect communities from the impacts of abandoned hog waste lagoons.

Other developments of note....

Clean Water Lobby Day. Clean Water Lobby Day is Wednesday May 2nd. Citizen activists from around the state will come to Raleigh to lobby on 3 key water-related issues: sedimentation (the inspectors, mentioned earlier in this memo), Carolyn Justice's good swine bill, and bills to amend the interbasin transfer law.

Green Tie Dinner. Well, you've heard of black tie dinners, right? The Conservation Council is holding our second "Green Tie Dinner" on May 23rd at the Capital Club in Raleigh. We will be honoring Speaker Joe Hackney (a former Board member), Carolyn Justice, Pricey Harrison, and Janet Cowell. Shoot me an email if you'd like to come and I'll make sure you get an invite. My work email is mike@conservationcouncilnc.org.

We are soliciting sponsors right now as well and would love to have you all join us as a sponsor of this event. I've joined as a $250 sponsor and would love to see each of you. Please contact me or our Executive Director, Carrie Clark, if you'd like to sponsor. Carrie can be reached at 839-0006.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oh. Canada!

(Editor's Note: Since I first published this blogpost, Stephen Harper's plan has been called into question by Al Gore and other environmentalists. Note added 4.30.07).

The AP reports that Stephen Harper's Conservative Government in Canada announced yesterday that they will seek a ban of incandescent light bulbs by 2012. Canada will join Australia as the 2nd nation to ban incandescents as inefficient and wasteful.

Why is the Bush administration still doing nothing to address climate change? Both Canada and Australia are led by conservatives who have come to believe that global climate change is a serious threat that must be addressed with a coherent plan for reducing carbon emissions. In this country, Republican California Governor Arnold Swartzenegger is a recent convert to the cause. And a regional climate change compact in New England was cobbled together by states that were, at the time, led by Republican Governors.

So, what's the deal George? This problem is real and it takes real leadership to address it. Get with the program.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Could Victory Against OLF be Near?

The N&O reports this morning that the Navy may be nearing a decision to back off siting an OLF (Outlying Landing Field) in Washington and Beaufort Counties in eastern NC.

The proposed OLF would be sited on roughly 30,000 acres near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Pocosin Lakes is a major winter habitat for birds from across North America, and siting the OLF there threatened to disrupt migratory patterns of a number of bird species.

The OLF has been opposed by environmentalists and locals for several years, but recently Republican Senators Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole voiced opposition. The Navy seems poised to look elsewhere now. Great news for the environment.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Check Out Dick Cheney and Condie Rice

View this cartoon.

Broken Record

I know some of my friends and colleagues must think I'm a broken record on energy. It seems like all I can talk about these days is global warming, energy security, energy efficiency, renewables, the energy economy, and the list could go on and on.

But if we're serious about addressing global warming, then we have to focus like laser beams on the causes and the solutions. If we don't start taking action soon, very soon, it's going to be too late. I don't believe any level of government--local, state or federal--as done a good job of addressing energy.

We've got a chance in '08 to change that, at least in Washington; so I thought it would be a good exercise to see what the presidential candidates are saying about energy. No surprisingly, the Democratic candidates generally had energy positions that we more detailed and more forward thinking. I flat out had a hard time locating substantive positions on most of the Republicans.

For most candidates, I was able to find an energy or global warming position paper on their websites. For those I couldn't, I've linked to newspaper clippings. Here are the links to find out more about the candidate's positions on energy:

Barack Obama
John Edwards
Hillary Clinton
Bill Richardson' speech on energy

Mitt Romney
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani
Tommy Thompson
Mike Huckabee

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dirty Waters

Did you know that the Neuse River was named the 8th most polluted river in America? Yeah, that dubious designation was announced this week, however the news out of Virginia Tech overshadowed the Neuse story.

The Neuse River Foundation produced this excellent, excellent video about the Neuse. Take three minutes to watch it. And then contact your legislator and express your concern. Ask him/her to support strong legislation to stop pollution from hog lagoons in eastern North Carolina. There are a number of bills out there, but the strongest is "Swine Farm Environmental Performance Standards/Funds," (HB 1115), which is sponsored by Representative Carolyn Justice of Pender County. Justice is a well-respected green Republican who has become a leader in the State House on environmental issues.

Watch the video and let your legislature know that you support Carolyn Justice's hog farm bill because it will help clean up the polluted waterways of eastern North Carolina.

As Goes Norway...

so goes the world?

Here's an interesting article from USA TODAY. Norway just announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2050. Good on 'em. It's about time the US started to get serious about global warming.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Death of CHH and the Border Wars

Rumors are circulating that the Chapel Hill Herald will cease production. There was a post by Jon Hamm on the John Locke Foundation's website which outed the decision. No confirmation from the Herald or it's publisher yet, but if true this changes the complexion of local news coverage.

Virtually over night the brand new "Carrboro Citizen" will become a major player, going head to do with the bi-weekly "Chapel Hill News." Each side of the border will have it's own paper, and it's own voice. Could be fun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One Man's Garbage....

One man's garbage is another man's energy source.

You may have seen the article in yesterday's Chapel Hill Herald about the county's initiative to turn landfill gas into an energy source. I've been wanting to pursue this for a long time and am glad that we're now taking concrete steps to turn the gas into economically viable energy.

The basics are as follows. Landfills--rotting garbage--give off methane and other gases. These gases cause odor and, even worse, they contribute to global warming. Methane is a green house that is many times more potent than car exhaust.

The plan is the capture the landfill gas, pump it to a small energy generation plant, and create electricity. In addition, the process that creates electricity also creates excess heat, and we'll be using this excess to heat buildings. So, we'll get two bangs for our buck.

Last Thursday the County Commissioners reviewed an analysis done by a consulting firm and then took the next step in the process: directing our staff to contact the University about using our landfill gas at Carolina North. Regardless of what gets built at Carolina North (and I recognize that there are diverse opinions about what should or should not be built there), the facilities on that campus will need energy. So we might as well pursue this promising option.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Environmental Conversation Saturday

In preparation for Earth Day, I met with a small group of local environmental advocates on Saturday. As I'm still in my first 6 months as a county commissioner, I'm trying to meet with as many interest groups as I can to hear what's on people's minds. I want to find out what people think we're doing well in Orange County, and what we could be doing better. I've had a couple of similar meetings, one with African-American leaders in northern Orange and one with Southern Orange business people.

All of these meetings have been productive, including Saturday's meeting with the environmentalists.

The attendees brought up a wide-range of issues including recycling, the landfill, land conservation, energy efficiency, greenways and bike paths, sustainability and environmental education in the school system.

Andy Ives, a UNC student who was graduated for Cedar Ridge High School, argued that environmental education should be beefed up in our schools. With environmental issues, such as global warming, becoming increasingly prominent, the next generation needs to have as much education as possible about the environment.

Loren Hintz and Carolyn Buckner both urged building more bike lanes along roadways in the county. Loren pointed out that there are very few bikelanes along roadsides in the county. Of course, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have done a pretty good job of constructing bike lanes but once you get outside of town limits bikelanes are few and far between.

Carolyn also brought up her concerns that we ship our solid waste out of county. It's simply wrong to dump out garbage on some poor county in eastern North Carolina or southeastern Virginia. Carolyn wants the county to look for another landfill site here in Orange so we can do the right thing.

The landfill discussion tied in with another topic we covered in some detail. Several attendees urged us to ban additional items from being landfilled so that we can delay as long as possible shipping our garbage out of county. One attendee in particular stressed that it's simply not right to allow items that can be easily recycled to continue to be thrown into the landfill. Mixed office paper is a good example of something that several folks argued should be banned outright from the landfill since it can be recycled. We've recenlty started curbside collection for office paper in single family neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. It's not yet available in multi-family but we need to move that direction as soon as possible.

Melva Okun suggested that the county set up an energy audit program for homeowners who want to know how they can increase energy efficiency in their homes. And Judith Ferster brought up a number of great points about the county's comprehensive planning process.

I picked up great ideas from the folks who attended. In particular, I'm going to follow up on the recycling questions. Like Carolyn, I really don't like the fact that in about 3 years Orange County will be shipping our garbage to some other community...and let's face it, the community our garbage goes to will likely be poor and minority.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Enviromental Conversation

I will be having an meeting with local folks interested in environmental matters this Saturday March 14. The meeting is at Carrboro Town Hall from 4 to 5:30pm and anyone is invited. Please come if you can.

As I'm just starting my term as a County Commissioner, I'm finding it helpful to sit down with folks and listen to what's on their minds. What are we doing well in Orange County with regard to the environment? What can we be doing better? What issues do constituents think need more attention?

If you're interested, please stop by and share your thoughts. There's no set agenda, just time to have a conversation. See you then.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Independent Weekly Article

A while back I posted on the efforts in Orange County to get a new anti-tethering ordinance for dogs. The concern, of course, is that some owners keep their dogs on tethers 24/7 causing emotional and sometimes physical harm to the animals. Several counties in North Carolina have already passed ordinances stronger than what we have in place here in Orange County.

In January, the BOCC set up a subcommittee of the Animal Services Advisory Board to review options for tethering ordinances and to make a recommendation. That committee is about halfway through our work plan, and we're hoping to wrap up on May.

In the meantime, the IndyWeek published a very interesting article today. I thought you might be interested.

Unfair Corporate Advantage

I received the following email yesterday from Todd Barlow at the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers. I'm sharing it with you because I think the legislation he refers to is good, and I encourage you all to support it. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support HB 244.

Here is the text of Todd's email:


The NC Academy of Trial Lawyers is supporting a bill (H244) to provide plaintiffs and defendants an equal number of peremptory jury challenges in cases where there are multiple defendants. Currently, in such cases, the defendants (corporations, insurance companies) may receive more challenges than the plaintiff. More peremptory challenges allows the defendants more leeway to tilt the jury pool in their favor. When there are cases with multiple plaintiffs, there is no mechanism to give plaintiffs more peremptory challenges.

H 244 will fix the unlevel playing field between big business/insurance companies and ordinary citizens - in this one instance, at least.


Todd R. Barlow
NCATL Political Affairs Counsel

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Environmental Justice and Global Warming

The worlds most-reknowned climate change scientists released a report this weekend that spells out many of the likely consequences of global warming: increased drought in the US Southwest, Mexico and Southern Europe; open sea lanes in the artic; and increased flooding in low-lying areas such as barrier islands and river basins.

One statement jumped out at me as in particular need of being stressed--"THE WORLD'S POOR ARE MOST AT RISK." Folks, global climate change is--amongst other things--an environmental justice issue. The affluent will have the resources to adjust; the poor will have neither the knowledge or the financial capability to prepare. Low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta region are at high risk from increased flooding. Of course, the Outer Banks of North Carolina are as well but the US is much more affluent in general and the home-owners along the barrier islands of North Carolina are, largely, wealthy. They will secure the resources to adapt.

While the US, including those of us here locally, are wringing our hands and not doing much to address climate change, the world's poor are sitting in the bull's eye. It's time that NC (and Orange County) take direct and forceful steps to reduce energy consumption and the emission of greenhouse gasses into our atomospher. Time is running out.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Energy Summit

Last night there was an excellent, and well-attended, town meeting on energy issues at the Century Center in Carrboro. The evening began with a viewing of a new locally-produced movie called "After the Peak. Set in Orange County in tne near future, the film is about life after oil production peaks and we start to see shortages. The film was OK, but even better was the panel discussion which followed.

The panel included Simon Rich, Eric Henry, and Patrick McDonough. Rich is a retired commodities broker, Henry owns a textile operation in Burlington, and Patrick McDonough is on the board of the Village Project. Rich offered compelling analysis the global oil supply, it's limits, and what we might expect once oil reaches a peak.

Eric Henry spoke eloquently about ways in which the business community can do it's part. His textile operation is one of the few left in North Carolina. They survived, in part, by changing their business model and making a conscious decision to run a sustainable business. His facility uses solar energy, produces biodiesel, recycles grey water, and is working with local farmers to produce organic cotton. Henry made a convincing argument that businesses can be both profitable and good corporate citizens.

Patrick McDonough brought the discussion back to a local focus. He shared analysis that was done by a UNC professor comparing fuel consumption at a 'traditional' suburban subdivision (Lake Hogan Farms in Carrboro) vs a compact, neo-traditional subdivision (Southern Village). Both subdivisions are populated with affluent suburbanites with similar incomes, and housing costs in both subdivisions are similar.

Southern Village was, of course, designed as a walkable community; residents can walk to the grocery store, walk to the movie theater, walk to a restaurant or the bookstore. The business center even has a school, a church and office space.

And, guess what? The residents of Southern Village drive an average of 17.4 miles per day LESS than the residents of Lake Hogan Farm. That's alot of gas. If you multiply that figure by 250 work days per year, it turns out that the average Lake Hogan Farm household drives over 4300 miles per year more than the average Southern Village household.

Those are pretty damning statistics. How subdivisions are designed is leading to higher fuel consumption, more air pollution, and global warming. The implications from McDonough's comments are that there are some fairly simple things we can do to change fuel consumption rates....and requiring that subdivisions be designed in a more energy-friendly manner is a good start.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How close IS the Tipping Point?

In previous posts and in public statements (most recently on the BOCC's decision to site a waste transfer station), I have asserted that every decision government makes should factor in global warming and carbon emissions. Concerns over global warming should not be the only factor considered, but we should include energy use, energy efficiency, carbon emissions as criteria in all are critical decisions.

The reason is this: scientist believe earth may soon be reaching a tipping point when it comes to the effects of carbon on the atmosphere. We can no longer afford to dither. Action must be taken soon and by all of us: individuals, governments, and businesses.

This excellent article from USA TODAY explains why.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Deserving of Attention

In yesterday's post, I wrote that the month of April would be devoted to posts on environmental issues. Well, one of the great things about having your own blog is that you can set the rules and you can decide when to bend them!

I ran across an article in the News and Observer today about my favorite drug store in North Carolina. It's right around the corner from my office in downtown Raleigh and is one of the few independently owned drug stores left in the state. It's also one of the few black owned drug stores.

I started going in in the afternoons to buy a soft drink or pack of nabs. Dr. Johnson and his staff are polite, friendly, and knowledgable. I kept coming back again and again because of their great service.

Frankly, when you frequent a store that's locally owned and not part of a chain, you can feel the difference. I certainly felt the difference right away at Hamlin Drugstore. For example, about two weeks ago I went in to get a prescription filled and found I'd forgotten my debit card. Dr. Hamlin handed me the bag with my medicine and told me I could "just pay tomorrow." That never happens in a chain. If I hadn't already been a loyal customer, I would have become one after that.

Hats off to Doctor Johnson for his well-deserved honor.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Earth Day, Earth Month

I've decided to devote the bulk of my postings for the month of April to environmental issues.

April 22nd is Earth Day. We've got many pressing environmental issues, and I figured one day wasn't nearly enough time to do them justice. The list of environmental concerns demanding attention is long: global warming, energy consumption, renewables, water quality, loss of farmland and forestland to development, air quality, contaminated groundwater, hog waste lagoons, mercury in our food supply, etc.

Six years of the Bush admininstration actively undermining the EPA has taken a toll. The EPA has been saddled with a lack of money, lack of support from the White House, and political appointees who represent business interests rather than the seeking to protect the environment.

And here in NC, our Department of the Environment and Natural Resources continues to be underfunded. For example, the governor's 2007-08 budget calls for the funding of 7 new inspectors for the state's sedimentation program. This makes the third budget cycle in a row that the governor has asked for these positions. In each of the previous years they've been cut by the State House. There are currently 34 inspectors who are charged with inspected something like 7 or 8,000 sedimentation sites in our state. Simply put, that's just not enough staff to do the job. The legislature needs to fund these positions this year. We've waited long enough.

Note: On Thursday April 5th, there is a forum on energy at the Century Center in Carrboro. It starts at 7pm. I'm hoping for a large crowd of individuals who want to reign in our gluttonous consumption of fossil fuels and discuss alternatives such as wind, solar, and creating renewables from biomass. Hope to see you all there.