Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's visit to see damage from Hurricane Matthew:
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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was in Fayetteville Friday to look at damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016, to see what's been fixed and what hasn't. Nearly 18 months after the worst flooding in Fayetteville's history, there's altogether too much still awaiting repair.
Carson acknowledged that. The federal disaster-relief machine is simply too slow. "The system that exists can use some improvement," Carson said, "because it takes so long to get things done."
Fayetteville City Councilman Larry Wright told Carson that some of his constituents — low-income and elderly — who lost their homes are still waiting for help and don't expect to get it for several more years. "What's taking so long?" Wright asked the secretary.
It's the system, Carson responded. It's just too slow. He said he had met earlier last week with other federal agency leaders to discuss how to get disaster aid to victims more rapidly. "What we decided, after our meeting on Monday, is that we need to kind of scrap all these things that have been put in place before, and start all over again," Carson said. "Because there are a lot of good elements in all the different agencies. But unless they're coordinated in the right way, it just gets in people's way."
Given the lessons that should have been learned in hurricane disasters like Katrina, Sandy and others, we would expect that we would have seen those efficiencies by now. But the federal response to last summer's hurricanes — and especially the debacle in Puerto Rico, where thousands of people are still without water and electricity — we'd have to conclude that talk about improved disaster-recovery improvement was too much talk and too little action.
Last year's unusually violent hurricane season is one of the reasons why we're so far behind in recovering from Matthew here. When the big storms struck Texas and Florida, disaster-assistance funding that we should have gotten was diverted. There's a lesson in that, but it's one that the Trump administration may not want to hear: We've entered an era of more violent weather. Conditions in the tropics have created bigger, more powerful hurricanes that are becoming more common. It is, at least in part, a product of the climate change that the current administration continues to forcibly deny. Rejecting the overwhelming consensus of science may make for good populist politics, but it's not at all helpful in gearing up to deal with the increasingly destructive tropical weather we're seeing.
There is more relief aid in the pipeline, Carson told Fayetteville officials as he joined Congressman Robert Pittenger on a tour of some formerly damaged sites that have been repaired. North Carolina will soon get another $237 million from HUD. About $35 million of it is coming to Fayetteville and Cumberland County. But it's still months away, tangled in the red tape of approvals at many levels of government.
Carson was a Republican candidate for the presidential nomination in 2016 and he made clear his disdain for the federal bureaucracy and its almost impenetrable maze of regulations that often seem so pointless. As HUD secretary with significant responsibility for hurricane recovery, he's seeing the problem firsthand. We hope he's learning from the experience and will use his hands-on information to streamline the country's disaster-relief systems. For the most part, we've got the initial emergency-response plan worked out. Even with problems as extensive as we saw last summer, the first waves of relief workers and funding went out quickly and got things done. Lives were saved and people were helped.
But what comes after that isn't so smooth. The long-term recovery mechanisms are still slow, balky and sometimes unresponsive. A lot of people in this region are counting on Carson to fix that part.
StarNews of Wilmington on state Senate leader Phil Berger's actions toward chemical pollution in Cape Fear River:
We know hindsight is 20-20, but we must have been blind when the StarNews first broke the GenX story last June.
What we now clearly see is how naive we were to assume that the General Assembly would do right by the thousands of people whose water comes from the lower Cape Fear River. No matter how passionately the Republican supermajorities in Raleigh oppose environmental regulations, GenX is a game-changer, we told ourselves.
We had just learned that nearly every person in our corner of the state was daily ingesting a mysterious and highly suspicious toxic substance. It was being discharged into our water supply by a spinoff (Chemours) of a giant corporation (DuPont) with a long, notorious history of chemical pollution.
Not only will legislators want to rush to protect the safety of a quarter million people, we assumed, they'll score a few political points. (Never, ever think that doesn't matter). GenX, after all, was the perfect opportunity for Republicans in Raleigh to demonstrate what we thought we knew: they were not signing up for the Sierra Club, but would take environmental issues seriously when they really, really mattered — like when people are scared to drink the water flowing from their tap.
Boy, were we naive.
Yes, the House has finally stepped up — about half a year late. But Senate leader Phil Berger continues his wanton and dangerous disregard of the problem. He's neglecting not only the people who know they are fouling their bodies daily with more GenX, but also the hundreds of thousands of folks beyond our region who are unsure what they are drinking — and breathing and eating — in this age of emerging chemicals.
Thanks to the federal Clean Water Act, the Chemours and DuPonts of the world need a permit to discharge effluents into surface water. The states are responsible for ensuring the federal standards are met. In North Carolina, that falls under the Department of Environmental Quality, which has seen its funding slashed by the anti-regulatory forces that control the legislature.
(It's worth noting that DuPont sued the EPA over the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s — DuPont v. Train — and saw its arguments shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court in an 8-0 decision).
With voter outcry growing and crossing traditional partisan lines (a toxic chemical in your drinking water has a way of doing that), the House recently passed a bill that provides a much-needed boost to DEQ, enabling the overburdened and underfunded agency to respond more effectively to the GenX contamination, which has widened in both scope and geography.
But Berger — the state's most powerful political leader — is having none of it. We don't know what his motives are, but we suspect they are simply political, related to the larger effort to make our traditionally moderate state a testing ground for laissez-faire government and faith that the invisible hand of the market will balance any corporate excesses like, say, contaminating the drinking water of a good chunk of the state's population with a toxic chemical that, by design, pretty much never decomposes.
The good news is, the House now seems committed to better funding for DEQ, at least for the GenX response. In the Senate, Berger rules with an iron fist. So we have no doubt that he could turn the switch in an instant and have the chamber take up the House bill, quickly get it approved, and give DEQ the resources it needs to do its job.
Meanwhile, we are thinking about the folks we see with shopping carts full of nothing but bottled water; the kids who come over to play with our children, instructed not to drink the water; those affected by the economic uncertainty GenX has caused, including possible lost job opportunities after new companies nixed Wilmington as a location, or existing businesses opted not to expand here.
We are thinking, too, about those who now can't help but look back at cancers and other illnesses — even deaths — with new questions; there's no proof of any connection with little-studied GenX, we know; but we understand the questions and the fear.
What we don't understand is Berger's callous response to the very legitimate concerns of the good people of Southeastern North Carolina. Come down here and meet some of them, Sen. Berger. Maybe that would persuade you to act.
For now, we guess we're supposed to believe Berger and Chemours have got our backs.
We have, however, spotted the "invisible hand" that's supposed to help protect us. It's flying high in Raleigh — symbolically, of course — directed toward Southeastern North Carolina, and with a certain finger extended upward.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's response to last week's editorial about him not commenting on a House Intelligence Committee report:
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is mighty thin-skinned these days.
Burr, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has one of the highest-profile jobs in Washington. He's leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
In an editorial last week, we urged Burr to tell some of the loudest partisan voices on the matter to pipe down while he and others pursue the facts. That prompted Burr to write us a letter of complaint, which we published.
Burr said the editorial "ultimately decided I'm not doing a good enough job in my investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 elections."
Actually, the editorial didn't say that — or anything close to that. It said, "Burr would serve the country well during this super-heated moment by lending his measured voice to correct some of the inflammatory remarks made by elected officials, especially President Trump."
Trump had said a Republican memo from the House Intelligence Committee "totally vindicates 'Trump' in probe" and "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans...."
We suspect Burr is so defensive because he knows we made a fair point. After all, Burr's Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain, made the same point we urged Burr to make.
"The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party's, no president's, only (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's," McCain said. "The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel (Robert) Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows."
We're flattered Sen. Burr cares so much about what we think. It's not too late for Burr to release a statement, perhaps with Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking committee Democrat, that says something like: "The Senate Intelligence Committee will not be drawn into partisan arguments about the investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 elections. We urge our colleagues in both parties, as well as President Trump, to refrain from drawing conclusions until all the facts are in. We are conducting an independent investigation rooted in fact and we will follow the facts where they lead us."
In his letter to us, Burr wrote that he couldn't earn the praise of The News & Observer's editorial board "outside of changing my party affiliation to Democrat."
We don't want you to change your party affiliation, Senator. We just want you to be yourself — your best self. In this case, that means leading a dispassionate, nonpartisan, fact-oriented investigation, and reminding the American people, amidst much partisan flailing, that's what you intend to do.