Our Daily Planet: Midterms 2018: North Carolina Watch and A Daily News Roundup
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

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Please help The Last Weekend to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) in these last crucial weeks before the Nov. 6th election. There are several pivotal races in North Carolina (see below) that NEED YOUR HELP.   Please click here if you’re able to volunteer!   Share this link with your friends too — see how many you can recruit to help! 
Swing Left also has organized bus trips to key locations – click here to see where they are going.  They need to fill at least 50 seats on each charter for the wheels to start rolling. So invite your friends, tell your family, and make sure everybody interested signs up right away. Each trip will be led by two bus captains, super volunteers who have spent many hours talking to voters. They’ll train you on everything you need to know to knock on doors and turn out voters in these crucial swing districts.  Now is when it counts!

 What Are The Issues? Why N.C. Matters

North Carolina’s Famous Outer Banks  Photo: Chadonka, Instagram
Today, Our Daily Planet focuses on North Carolina, a state that President Trump won in 2016 by approximately 170,000 votes, but Democrats, including President Obama, have had success there in recent years.  North Carolina is a diverse state — its natural environment includes a long coastline as well as mountains and a fertile agricultural plain in between.  As a result, the state’s economy is also quite diverse, from extensive agriculture (pork, chickens, soybeans, and tobacco), and banking and manufacturing, as well as tourism — North Carolina is the 6th most visited state in the U.S.  As a result, North Carolina is ground zero for many environmental battles over climate change, clean water, healthy oceans, agriculture, renewable energy, and coastal resilience.  One of the most important ecologists of the 20th Century, Rachel Carson, wrote many seminal works while working for the federal government in coastal North Carolina.  These works, including The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring, laid the groundwork for the modern environmental movement beginning in the 1970’s. 

 Environmental Threats

Dan River Spill, Feb. 2014 Photo: Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
This year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, all these environmental problems were exacerbated by the historic flooding — causing the spread of these hazards beyond their previous reach.  

Coal Ash: 
As the Sierra Club explained, coal ash is a waste byproduct of burning coal, and is often stored in ponds near the power plant where it was made which usually sit dangerously close to rivers and lakes that provide drinking water and recreation to local communities. Coal ash contains a dangerous mix of heavy metals and chemicals that pose a direct threat to the health of residents living in nearby communities. Almost 70 percent of all coal ash ponds are located near low-income communities or communities of color. In North Carolina, Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds have had numerous incidents of leaking in recent years including the spill that released at least 39,000 tons of coal ash and millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the Dan River from a coal ash pond at one of Duke’s retired coal-fired power plants.

Agricultural Waste: North Carolina’s extensive hog and chicken farms take a heavy toll on the environment, particularly for those who live near the Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) who experience, according to Civil Eats,  a number of unpleasant and unhealthy ills, including sickening stenches, mists of wastewater drifting onto their properties, swarms of flies, and roadside “dead boxes” containing pig carcasses—all of which cause chronic illnesses, lower property values, decrease their quality of life, and lead to discomfort, anger, embarrassment, and fear.   But there has been some justice for those (mostly poor and minority) families that live near these facilities — last April, a North Carolina jury ordered Smithfield to pay damages for the harms the factory operation causes their local community.

Military and Industrial Pollution:  North Carolina has a large military presence and a legacy of contamination as a result.  For example, at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps installation, the drinking water (from the 1950s until at least 1985) was contaminated with toxic chemicals at levels 240 to 3400 times higher than what is permitted by safety standards.  In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a position on the water at Camp Lejeune finding that exposures “to trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and other contaminants in the drinking water at the Camp Lejeune likely increased the risk of cancers.Nearly 1 million people were exposed to this toxic pollution during that time.  In addition, North Carolina is also dealing with air and water pollution from GenX, an unregulated chemical that the company Chemours produced there and other facilities like it.  In this case, GenX spilled chemicals into the Cape Fear River for years, according to the state, and worse, the river provides drinking water for residents from Fayetteville to Wilmington.

 Climate Change Threats

Flooding in the wake of Hurricane Florence on the outskirts of Lumberton, North Carolina. Photo: Jason Miczek/Reuters 
Hurricanes: Storms like Hurricane Florence are growing stronger as ocean waters warm and North Carolina’s low-lying areas are incredibly susceptible to flooding from hurricanes. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature has routinely ignored warnings from scientists about the effects of climate change like rising seas and storm-surges and have allowed development to continue in the most susceptible areas. According to Lisa Sorg, an environmental reporter for NC Policy Watch, “Consistently, over the past maybe eight, nine years, the legislature under conservative control has cut funding to the Department of Environmental Quality, which has hampered its ability to enforce, to monitor, to basically do its full job of protecting human health and the environment.” It’s imperative that in a climate-susceptible state like North Carolina that lawmakers acknowledge the problem and also fund state agencies so that they can help citizens prepare and adapt. Rising sea levels are likely to increase flood insurance rates, while more frequent storms could increase the deductible for wind damage in homeowner insurance policies. Many cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities, and water supplies in the Southeast are vulnerable to the impacts of storms and sea level rise. Additionally, people may move from vulnerable coastal communities and stress the infrastructure of the communities that receive them.​

Sea Level Rise: Along the coast of North Carolina, the land surface is sinking, so the observed rate of sea level rise relative to the land is greater than the global average rise. Sea level is likely to rise one to four feet in the next century along the coast of North Carolina and according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, in 30 years, more than 15,000 North Carolina homes will be chronically inundated, meaning they’re flooded about every other week. Millions of dollars each year are spent rebuilding the state’s beaches as rising sea levels and storm surges keep washing away sand and federal, state and local governments have spent more than $828 million to restock beaches since 1939, with much of that money coming from the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA. Most federal beach nourishment funds are being used to rebuild beaches in wealthy, white, communities and that some beaches are being fortified over and over again. 

Extreme Heat: Days above 105° F are on the rise in North Carolina and the state’s hot summers and high humidity levels make heat very hard to cope with for the human body. As the EPA noted, certain people are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. High air temperatures can cause heat stroke and dehydration and affect people’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. Warmer air can also increase the formation of ground-level ozone, a key component of smog. Ozone has a variety of health effects, aggravates lung diseases such as asthma, and increases the risk of premature death from heart or lung disease. As the climate changes, continued progress toward clean air will become more difficult.

 Green Job Opportunities

SEIA ranks North Carolina as the second in the nation for solar energy, second only to California. Although the state was once a small solar market, North Carolina’s solar industry grew quickly thanks in part to the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) and strong state policy and regulatory support.  A 2017 law authorized solar leasing, giving a much-needed boost to residential solar companies and offering consumers more options to control their energy use. 

Wind Energy development in North Carolina is under an 18-month moratorium (until December 2018) so that the state can review potential issues of future wind development on military activities. According to the Charlotte Business Journal, North Carolina ranks 30th for wind power, despite the 471-megawatt Amazon Wind Project in eastern North Carolina, which is the largest wind farm in the southeast.

There are more than 700 business-owned renewable energy projects across North Carolina, including over a dozen breweries & distributors that are generating energy from the sun and wind – and becoming more energy efficient – creating a growing trend for renewables among businesses. 
Solar Jobs: 7,622  Clean Energy Jobs:  34,300

 Who’s Willing To Do Something About It?

U.S. House of Representatives: There are three candidates running in very tight races that would prioritize environmental threats and ensure that North Carolina was on the right path toward a clean-energy future as well as preparedness for extreme weather events like what we witnessed with Hurricane Florence. 
  • Kathy Manning (NC-13) a lawyer, community non-profit leader and advocate. Volunteer for her campaign here
  • Linda Coleman (NC-2) a former teacher and career public servant. Volunteer for her race here.
  • Dan McCready (NC-9)a Harvard Business School graduate and former marine who started a solar investment fund after graduating from Harvard. Volunteer for his race here. 

The League of Conservation Voters has endorsed all three candidates and in their own words this is why they’re fighting for the environment:

“A strong economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand. Without clean water to drink and clean air to breathe, we can’t expect our families to thrive. Protecting North Carolina’s environment and preserving our natural resources is a critical priority for families and our economy.”

“My district is home to three of North Carolina’s major waterways which provides drinking water for millions. We simply cannot afford to take these critical resources for granted. In Congress, I will fight for legislation that preserves the environmental integrity of our state and supports those who depend on the land for their economic prosperity.”

“As a clean energy entrepreneur, I’ve been dedicated to helping build solar farms all across North Carolina. Protecting and preserving our natural resources is a vital mission. To me, conservation is not just a responsibility, it is a moral imperative.”

Early voting has already started in North Carolina and so far the number of registered Republicans who have cast early votes is up by 44 percent compared with the 2014 midterm election. For registered Democrats, there’s only been an increase of 26 percent voting early compared to the same period in 2014. We’ve listed several ways that you can volunteer to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) especially in the crucial elections listed above, so please, sign up to volunteer these next two weekends! 

The Environmental Voter Project is actively working to get voters who prioritize the environment to the polls. They are completely non-partisan and volunteering with them is as easy as using your phone to text GOTV reminders. Sign their Environmental Voter Pledge here or sign up to volunteer here

 Early Voting In North Carolina 

From now until Saturday, November 3rd, absentee voting (commonly known as “early or one-stop voting”) allows any North Carolina registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in person. Unlike on Election Day, when registered voters can only vote at their specific precinct, early voting allows registered voters to vote at any one-stop absentee voting site in the county where they live. Better yet, a person can register to vote and then immediately vote that day at early voting sites.  So get your friends and family in North Carolina to the polls now! For more info, click here.

 Environmental News Roundup

Taylor Oil Spill – Longest Running in Gulf of Mexico Photo: Gerald Herber, Associated Press
14-Yea- Old Oil “Spill:” The Washington Post calls attention to an ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — the Taylor oil leak in the Gulf — which has leaked more than 3.6 million barrels of oil since it started leaking in 2004 – to go deeper see the Skytruth (an environmental satellite analysis firm) chronology of spill reports and observations at the site here.  

Antarctic Melt:  If you want to see the impacts that climate change is having now in Antarctica, look no further than the stunning photos by National Geographic’s Paul Nicklen — the entire spread is breathtaking in more ways than one — “the landscape is shriveling.”  Be sure to watch the videos!

Evil Purple Urchins: Purple sea urchins off the coast of California have wiped out the iconic kelp forests there, according to The New York Times, and have hurt the local economy too because kelp is the main food source for commercially valuable red urchins which are the source of uni for sushi lovers.  

Climate Caravan:  Democrats did not cause the Guatemalan migrant caravan, climate change did — at least in part.  National Geographic reports that Guatemala is considered one of the 10 most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate change, which is forcing more and more people of its citizens to migrate to escape skyrocketing levels of food insecurity and poverty.
Guatemalan Refugees    Photo: Edgard Garrido, Reuters
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