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Watch Your Wallet: How to Avoid Holiday Scams

While the holidays are a time of giving, experts say con artists are ready to take whatever they can from unsuspecting North Carolinians. Whether you are shopping in person or online, Amy Nofziger with the AARP Fraud Watch Network says scammers are getting smarter, and some of their biggest cons involve fake charities, gift-card fraud and online shopping.

A newer trick, she says, is fake websites offering the hottest holiday item, “If you click on one of those links, you might think you’re getting a great price on a tablet, let’s say. But what you’re doing is going to the scammer’s fake website, entering your personal and credit card information, and that is where they victimize you.”

She recommends shoppers go to a retailer’s direct website for online shopping. North Carolianians of all ages can learn more about the red flags of fraud through the AARP Fraud Watch Network (fraudwatchnetwork.org.) It tracks trending scams, provides fraud alerts and allows registered users to share stories of fraud they’ve witnessed with others.You can check out a company or report a scam in North Carolina by calling the State Attorney General at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Gift cards are popular presents, and Nofziger says scammers will try cashing in on them by taking pictures of the numbers on front and back of the cards inside stores, before they are purchased, “They will wait for someone to load funds onto that gift card and then, they will drain them. So if you’re buying a gift card, make sure to inspect the gift card – look at the front, look at the back, make sure it has not been tampered with.”

Nofziger says signs that you may have become a fraud victim include suspicious activity on a credit card statement, receiving suspicious mail or unsolicited telemarketing calls. She says North Carolinians can protect themselves best by being informed, “It’s really important for people to be proactive – learn the red flags of fraud and certainly, share them with your family and friends.”

When shopping online, experts say it’s a good idea to use a credit card instead of a debit card that’s directly linked to your bank account, or pay with a pre-paid credit card.

Hazards of Holiday: Too Much Turkey-and Family?

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it's okay to pace yourself and even say "no" to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it’s okay to pace yourself and even say “no” to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.

Holiday family gatherings can be fun for some, but for others they can be stressful and unpleasant. Mental health experts say it’s okay to pace yourself and even say “no” to some situations you know will be sources of conflict. Photo credit: Steel Wool/Flickr.[/caption]While the holidays are a happy time for many, the stress associated with family obligations and dynamics can be the “lump of coal” in some people’s Christmas stockings. According to the American Psychological Association, fatigue and stress are the top sources of negative feelings during this time of year.

Clinical social worker and psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz says sometimes the best thing to do is simply not participate in a potentially stressful situation, “Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to avoid family interactions that you know are going to be too painful, or that will set you up to be ‘triggered’ in some way.”

Ferentz says if you do feel compelled to see family or friends who can be a source of conflict, limit time you spend, bring a friend to act as a buffer, and use your cell phone as an excuse for a break.

Ferentz says sometimes, the best relief is to break away from habits from the past by beginning a new tradition, or doing something for others, “I encourage people to volunteer during this time of year. I think when you do things that kind of help you step outside of yourself and your own emotional upset, it gives you perspective about life. It also helps you to kind of reclaim a feeling of gratitude.”

Ferentz says it’s also important to avoid self-destructive behaviors such as over-eating or drinking too much – and replace them with exercise or meditation.

Enough is Enough: NC Chicken Farmer Fights Perdue Farms

It’s a real life case of David versus Goliath. A North Carolina chicken farmer is speaking out against the practices of one of the country’s largest poultry producers – Perdue Farms.

Earlier this month a video was released by farmer Craig Watts of Fairmont, shot with the help of the group Compassion in World Farming. The video shows chickens living in cramped, dark quarters, many of them with raw bellies – unable to walk. Watts says the animal suffering comes as a result of the guidelines he’s asked to follow by Perdue, “What I was seeing was all I knew. What we started seeing was chicks coming in just in awful conditions. Bacteria, weak chicks, you name it. I don’t care who you are it gets to you after a while. ”

In a statement on Watts’ allegations, Perdue says the “conditions shown in this farmer’s poultry house do not reflect Perdue’s standards for how our chickens are raised.” On December 5th, the same day Watts’ video was released, Perdue conducted an inspection of his farm – the first one in more than 20 years.

Leah Garces with Compassion in World Farming says Watts is simply taking a stand against a system that needs to be changed, “There’s something not right with this system. There is something not right when you cram 30,000 birds into a warehouse that’s dimly lit. There is no fresh air and no natural light. ”

Perdue is now conducting an audit of Watts’ farm. The farmer says he’d like to continue on as a contractor for the company – which has annual sales of $6,000,000 dollars – because it will be easier to instigate change within the system, “If I don’t get axed, then we’re going to do things like they ought to be done. I know what grandma’s chicken coop looks like. Well, that’s that these guys are selling. Well, what the reality is is that basically I’ve got a ammunition shed down there for the chickens.”

North Carolina has a so-called “Ag-Gag” law in place, which offers protection to farm owners from whistleblower activists. Since Watts owns his farm, how the law impacts his case is unclear. In October Perdue announced it would remove stickers from packaging on some of its meat saying it was “humanely raised.”

F.E.M.A. Document Reveals 130 Million Americans Could Suffer Extended Blackouts Due to Intense Solar Storm

In the latest official confirmation about the acute vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid, the Washington Free Beacon has revealed that a Freedom of Information Act request produced a fact sheet describing a 2012 Federal Emergency Management Agency interagency plan for severe space weather. The FEMA document refers to a 2010 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that “an extreme solar storm could leave 130 million people without power for years, and destroy or damage more than 300 hard-to-replace electrical grid transformers.”

According to Dr. William Graham, President Reagan’s Science Advisor and chairman of the congressionally mandated Electromagnetic Pulse Threat Commission, in the wake of widespread and prolonged blackouts, nine out of ten Americans could perish.

Importantly, the level of damage described by FEMA and NOAA could be caused by what is known as a G5 class storm, the last of which hit the earth in 1921. That geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) is estimated to have been roughly one-tenth the power of an 1859 solar storm known as a Carrington Event. Congressional testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year established that the likelihood of another Carrington-class solar storm, to say nothing of less powerful ones, striking our planet in the foreseeable future is one-hundred percent.

In fact, on December 5, Robert Rutledge, who directs NOAA’s Space Weather Forecast Office, advised the DuPont Summit – a conference in Washington, D.C. on grid vulnerability and steps needed to mitigate it – that such storms are as certain as earthquakes and hurricanes, and should be planned for accordingly.

NOAA’s 2010 Strategic Plan was performed for the National Research Council and drew upon a study by well-known experts in the field of geo-magnetically induced currents (GIC) and their impact on the grid, Drs. William Radasky and John Kappenman.

FEMA’s fact-sheet notes, however, that unnamed engineers from the electrical industry downplay the severity of predictions in the NOAA Strategic Plan. Unfortunately, the industry has long withheld data on geo-magnetically induced current flows that could shed light on the magnitude of the impact of even normal solar weather on the nation’s bulk power distribution system.

Dr. Kappenman, who is a member of the Secure the Grid Coalition, responded to the Free Beacon report:

The industry itself continues not to make publicly available important information on observations of geo-magnetically-induced current (GIC) and power grid impacts and failures that have occurred for smaller, more frequent storm events that can be used to validate models to examine impacts for rare larger storm events. This is somewhat like airlines withholding critical black box recorder data from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration.

The Secure the Grid Coalition is concerned that such a lack of transparency is a product of the U.S. electrical industry’s reluctance to harden its infrastructure against such threats. The practical effect of industry non-disclosure and opposition to providing robust protection to its own assets is to cause important planning scenarios to be watered down. That, in turn, has impeded consideration and adoption of standards meant to mitigate such dangers, as regulators rely on assumptions that do not meet modern scientific standards or independent and widely accepted threat assessments.

The Center for Security Policy sponsors the Secure the Grid and its President, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., noted:

The evidence continues to accumulate that our most critical of critical infrastructures – the nation’s electric grid – is exceedingly vulnerable not only to certain naturally occurring phenomena, but to a variety of possible enemy actions. The federal government knows we face, accordingly, potentially nation-ending threats.

The House of Representatives recently unanimously approved the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (H.R. 3410) that would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan for protecting the grid against, among other things, the sorts of devastation a massive solar storm could inflict. In light of the latest revelations from FEMA and NOAA, there is simply no excuse for the Senate failing to assign top priority to approve H.R. 3410, ideally in the remaining days of the lame duck session.

Secure the Grid Coalition members are available for comment on the electric grid’s susceptibility to severe solar weather events and other threats and what needs to be done to protect it against all hazards. More information can be found at www.securethegrid.com.

NC Abortion Debate Looms: Public Asked to Comment on DHHS Rules

Another skirmish in the abortion battle? Some in North Carolina are concerned that the public comment period on new DHHS rules for clinics that perform abortions will fuel the longtime debate on the topic. Photo credit: Larryography/FeaturePics.com

Another skirmish in the abortion battle? Some in North Carolina are concerned that the public comment period on new DHHS rules for clinics that perform abortions will fuel the longtime debate on the topic. Photo credit: Larryography/FeaturePics.com

The future of reproductive health in North Carolina is in the hands of the general public. This month, the NC Department of Health and Human Services proposed new regulations for abortion clinics and now the public has an opportunity to comment. If 10 or more people object to the rules, the General Assembly will have to make the final determination.

Dr. David Grimes – professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC fears a possible abortion debate at the state level could be counterproductive to women’s health, “We need to hope that this does not become a political football now in the General Assembly, where politicians with no medical background try to tinker with the very fine product that’s been developed.”

Grimes says the rules proposed by DHHS are reasonable guidelines to ensure that women who want to terminate a pregnancy can do so as safely as possible. The rules require more post-operative care, a 24 hour number to call if complications arise, and a defibrillator on-site in case of cardiac arrest.

The state was required to draft new rules by a bill signed into law last year. As a result, several clinics that had provided abortion services closed, saying they were unable to meet the new law’s requirement that abortion clinics meet some of the same standards as outpatient surgery centers.

Grimes says the current policy is prompting some women to make tough decisions, “It’s getting more and more difficult, and it’s important to know that if women don’t have access to safe, legal abortion, they’ll do what they did before Roe v. Wade. They’ll do dangerous self-abortion attempts, or resort to the back alley.”

Supporters of the changes say it was necessary for the state to update its 20-year-old regulations regarding abortion.

Report: The “Other” List Santa Should Check

Before filling the stockings of little loved ones this holiday season, gift givers might want to check out a new annual report that lists potential toy dangers to watch out for on store shelves.

Pam Clough with the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says they’ve released their “Trouble in Toyland” report for 29 years now, and as a result, more than 150 toys have either been recalled or taken out of retail stores, “It is great to see that progress is being made, but it’s evident that there are still dangerous toys on the shelves.”

Clough says the findings highlight the need for consumers to be proactive and do their research before buying, and also examine items that already have been purchased for possible dangers.

Among the 24 toys on the list this year, Clough says they uncovered four main hazards – toxins, choking risks, magnets and excessively noisy toys, “We found toys that contained phthalates that are well over the legal limits. For example, a Dora backpack was 20 percent phthalates, which is ridiculous.”

Clough says the toxic chemicals found in toys can have adverse health effects on a child’s development, and the list includes lead and chromium, among others.

Clough says toy-safety standards have improved with passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. She says one of those “improvements” is a ban that goes into effect next year on small magnetic sets that pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed, “The magnets have the power to bind through tissue, and so that can really disrupt the digestive system. And it actually can lead to severe injury that has been seen in pediatric emergency hospitals.”

The Toy Industry Association claims PIRG’s past unsafe-toy reports were based on improper testing methods that aren’t approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

#GivingTuesday Offers North Carolinians a Chance to Give Back

gr-43162-1-1Now that the flurry of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is behind us – nonprofits in North Carolina are reminding people about the chance to give to the greater good. Today is #GivingTuesday – and its goal is to inspire consumers to contribute to their communities in the form of charitable donations to improve the lives of others. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice – which provides assistance to people trying to get back on their feet after a criminal conviction – has joined the effort.

Anita Earls with the organization says a gift to SCSJ provides life changing opportunities to others, “So you’re really helping someone in the community who is trying to get back on their feet, get a job, provide for their families and communities.”

Other charities across North Carolina are also participating in the effort. Before donating, make sure you are giving to a recognized charity and you have a good understanding of how the money will be used. The Better Business Bureau does report increased instances of charity scams during the holiday season. Websites like charitynavigator.org can help you make sure your donation is going to a legitimate nonprofit.

Because many nonprofits like SCSJ are able to get donations matched, Earls says even a gift of a few dollars can make a huge difference, when pooled with the donations of others, “The value of this kind of campaign is that if we reach a lot of people then each person giving a little bit together makes a huge difference.”

More information is available at givingtuesday.org Last year Americans contributed $19,000,000 to charities – almost double than the year before. The average contribution is $142.

AAA Carolinas: Falling Gas Prices Fuel Increase in Thanksgiving Holiday Travel for North Carolinians

Almost 90 percent of North Carolinians traveling this Thanksgiving holiday will be celebrating with a road trip, while enjoying the lowest gas prices in five years.

A total of 1,345,000 North Carolinians are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home. About 1,210,500 of those travelers will drive, an increase of about 48,600 than last year.

Gas prices in North Carolina have dropped dramatically in the past two months. The statewide average is $2.77 today, down 57 cents from Labor Day, Sept. 1, when they averaged $3.34. North Carolinians are paying 46 cents less at the pump compared to last Thanksgiving, when they paid $3.23.

“Lower prices at the pump have encouraged more people to hit the road this Thanksgiving holiday to spend time with their family and friends,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “With Thanksgiving being the busiest travel weekend of the year, we want to remind families to take extra measures to ensure safety on the highways.”

Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous holidays for motorists due to its five-day length and the heavy traffic caused by the high number of travelers on the road. Last year, 12 people died in crashes on North Carolina highways during the holiday weekend.

The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 26 through Sunday, Nov. 30. The highest number of travelers on the road will depart for their destinations on Wednesday and most will return on Sunday.

The top five driving destinations this time of the year for people living in the Carolinas are Charlotte, Charleston, Asheville, Orlando and Myrtle Beach, according to AAA Carolinas.

Those driving through North Carolina will encounter the highest average price per gallon of unleaded gas in Asheville at $2.92; the least expensive average price is in the Charlotte-Gastonia area at $2.73.

North Carolina motorists can expect to see lower gas prices in the bordering states of South Carolina ($2.59), Virginia ($2.66), Tennessee ($2.62), and Georgia ($2.76).

Despite a small increase in airfares, up 1% from last year, more travelers are taking to the skies this year, about 92,700 or 7% of all travelers. The busiest departure date for air travel is Monday, Nov. 24, with the highest number expected to return the following Monday, Dec. 1, or later.

An estimated 40,300 (3%) will use other modes of transportation such as train, bus or boat.

Travelers not staying with relatives or friends will encounter a moderate increase in hotel rates compared to last year. AAA Three Diamond hotels average $154 per night, compared to $142 last year, while the average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen 9% with an average cost of $114 per night. AAA rates hotels from one to five Diamonds based on standards in physical attributes, hospitality and amenities. AAA Three Diamond hotels represent the largest number of AAA rated accommodations.

Weekend daily car rental rates have increased 10% this year to average $55 per day.

For the latest on construction delays, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.ncdot.org. Click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System for up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to special events.

South Carolina Department of Transportation prohibits lane closures on interstate highways and high-volume multilane routes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, considered to be from noon on Wednesday, Nov. 26, until 6 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1.

Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.

To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.

The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find updated gas prices, view nearby member discounts and access AAA Roadside Assistance.

AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.9 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.

Sylva: National Register Adds 17 North Carolina Historic Places

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources is pleased to announce that 17 individual properties and districts across the state have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The properties below were reviewed by the North Carolina National Register Advisory Committee and were subsequently approved by the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Officer and forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register.

“Architecture is among North Carolina’s rich cultural treasures,” Governor Pat McCrory said. “These selections are North Carolina’s adaptations of classic American styles of architecture ranging from a plantation house to a downtown auto dealership. I’m pleased these sites have merited selection to the National Register so they can be preserved, enjoyed and studied by future generations.”

“The National Register is a vital tool in the preservation of North Carolina’s historic resources,” said Susan Kluttz, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. “North Carolina is a leader in the nation’s historic preservation movement. When all of the buildings in historic districts classified as contributing to the districts’ significance are counted, it is estimated that North Carolina has approximately 73,300 National Register properties.”

The listing of a property in the National Register places no obligation or restriction on a private owner using private resources to maintain or alter the property. Over the years, various federal and state incentives have been introduced to assist private preservation initiatives, including tax credits for the rehabilitation of National Register properties. As of Jan. 1, 2014, 3,000 rehabilitation projects with total estimated expenditures of $1.7 billion have been completed.

Downtown Sylva Historic District, Sylva, Jackson County, listed 9/03/14

Located in the county seat of Jackson County, the Downtown Sylva Historic District covers approximately 13 acres and includes 44 contributing buildings and structures primarily along Main, Mill, Landis, and Jackson streets. The period of significance begins in 1900, with the construction of the Sylva Pharmacy at 596-600 West Main Street, and extends to 1964, when the Modernist United States Post Office building was completed. The Downtown Sylva Historic District is locally significant in the areas of architecture and commerce.

Prescribed Burns in Cheoah Ranger District

The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a prescribed burn today on approximately 28 acres in the Cheoah Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest. The burn will take place off of FS Road 2630, near the Panther Creek and Duck Branch communities, which are approximately 15 miles east of the District Office.

The purpose of this burn is to reduce hazardous fuels and prepare the ground for planting seedlings.

Public safety is the highest priority during a prescribed burn. The public should beware of smoke and fire engines in the area.

NC Urged to “Keep Pedal to the Metal” with Solar Growth

On Thursday, Environment North Carolina released a report outlining the reasons North Carolina should continue its brisk pace for solar-energy development, and generate 20 percent of its power from solar by 2030. Photo courtesy of Environment North Carolina.

On Thursday, Environment North Carolina released a report outlining the reasons North Carolina should continue its brisk pace for solar-energy development, and generate 20 percent of its power from solar by 2030. Photo courtesy of Environment North Carolina.

North Carolinians have the power of the sun to be thankful for as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, according to a new report from Environment North Carolina. The analysis found the state has one of the fastest-growing solar industries in the country, growing by 127% in recent years. It also recommends a goal for North Carolina to generate 20% of its energy from the sun by the year 2030.

Maya Gold with Environment North Carolina says it is within reach, “North Carolina is definitely a leader when it comes to solar on a national level. So, to take solar power to the next level, our leaders just have to keep their foot on the accelerator, and certainly not put on the brakes.”
Tag: Gold says for the state to reach the goal, it will need to maintain a solar installation growth rate of 26% a year. She adds North Carolina’s solar tax credits are playing a large role in the growth and are some of the most generous in the country.

However, the state’s solar tax credits are set to expire at the end of 2015. Gold says the economic benefits that come as a result of creating cleaner energy are one reason to renew them, “The solar industry is definitely a huge contributor to the economy. You can’t have solar energy in North Carolina without jobs for North Carolinians.”

According to Environment North Carolina, the state’s solar industry employs 3,100 people. Gold says a 20% reliance on solar would eliminate the equivalent of carbon pollution from 4,500,000 vehicles each year, and put the state close to reaching the EPA’s Clean Power Plan benchmark. That proposal requires cutting carbon pollution from power plants 40% by 2030.

Tobacco: Kids Can’t Smoke It, But They Pick It in NC

ome children working with tobacco plants wear trash bags to protect themselves from absorbing nicotine from the wet leaves. Kids are especially vulnerable to what's known as green tobacco sickness, essentially the nicotine poisoning of a non-smoker with the blood nicotine level of a pack-a-day habit. Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch.

ome children working with tobacco plants wear trash bags to protect themselves from absorbing nicotine from the wet leaves. Kids are especially vulnerable to what’s known as green tobacco sickness, essentially the nicotine poisoning of a non-smoker with the blood nicotine level of a pack-a-day habit. Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch.

Children half the age that they could legally smoke are reportedly laboring in tobacco fields in North Carolina. It’s hard to tell how many or how old they are. But a study by Oxfam America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee or “FLOC,” found one in ten working in North Carolina tobacco fields is younger than 18.

FLOC’s Baldemar Velasquez says children work to help their families get by typically start in their early teens – but sometimes much younger, “Seven, eight on up. We’ve seen kids this summer that were 13, 15 – and they’d tell us they’d worked in tobacco for seven years, five years.”

The major tobacco companies all have policies against child labor, but a federal loophole intended for farm families leaves the practice in a legal gray area. Most growers insist they obey the law, to the best of their ability.

Velasquez says he worked harvesting tobacco as a teen, and started with his family at age six. He says “it was either that or not eating.” He says families, often here illegally and paid low wages, are at the mercy of labor contractors. And economic pressures mean farm owners and cigarette companies look the other way when crew leaders break the law, “Doesn’t matter to the crew leader, the labor contractor, because he gets the money from the harvest. He doesn’t care how small the hands are that are putting the cut tobacco on the trailer, as long as the acres get done.”

According to a separate report from Human Rights Watch, half of tobacco workers make below minimum wage. It found 12-hour days are common, and 16-hour days not unusual. The reports say the kids are especially vulnerable to green tobacco sickness, a type of nicotine poisoning.

Velasquez remembers getting dizzy and nauseous, with high blood nicotine levels, “When you try to eat, nothing tastes right. Workers say they try to drink milk ’cause it’s the only thing that they can consume when you get really, really sick.”

Off the farms, the US eliminated most child labor decades ago. Velasquez says the fights that unions won in the mills of North Carolina still have to be fought in the tobacco fields.

“These are symptoms of a broader labor problem. We used to have children in the mines of America, textile mills of America. When unions were formed, they negotiated away those conditions.”

Experts Predict Looming Budget Crisis in North Carolina Following Tax Cuts

North Carolina lawmakers are likely enjoying some downtime after the legislative session and a midterm election, but experts predict there is a tough job waiting on them in Raleigh. A report from the Office of the State Controller indicates tax revenues are down almost $400,000,000 dollars compared with the same time last year. That’s a 6% drop in revenue.

Alexandra Sirota with the NC Budget and Tax Center says it’s not a problem the State Assembly will be able to ignore in January, “This is a serious issue. It’s self imposed in that policymakers chose to reduce our revenue. Now they’re going to have to make choices about some pretty deep cuts.”

Sirota and others believe the decreased revenue is a result of personal and corporate income tax cuts. Additional tax cuts will take effect on January 1st, unless lawmakers call a special session to stop the cuts from taking place. State revenue is expected to get a boost in the form of sales tax revenue from holiday shopping.

Opponents of North Carolina’s recent tax cuts point to the problems experienced in Kansas, where large tax cuts have resulted in cuts to public education and have not resulted in a growth in the state’s economy as its governor predicted.

Gerrick Brenner with Progress NC Action believes North Carolina could share a parallel experience with the midwestern state if action isn’t taken,”There’s been a windfall for the wealthy and for corporations. Some people have actually had their taxes go up if you’re at the lower income brackets. And who is going to pay for this budget mess? It’s going to be our public schools, our universities, vital services that need state funding to happen.”

Brenner points out that Governor Pat McCrory promised in his 2013 State of the State Address that tax reform would not result in less revenue for the state.

Sirota says her analysis indicates the state will have to cut programs or raise taxes in order to balance the budget, as mandated by the state constitution, “What we’re seeing is that fewer dollars are coming in because the tax plan that was passed gave significant tax cuts to the wealthy and profitable corporations. As a result, we don’t have the money to make investments for a stronger North Carolina.”

Caring for Caregivers: Holidays Add Stress for Family of Sick and Aging

Lou Henderson spent 20 years caring for his wife and recently decided to place her in assisted care. Photo credit: Holly Pilson

Lou Henderson spent 20 years caring for his wife and recently decided to place her in assisted care. Photo credit: Holly Pilson

For every twinkle of a holiday light and crinkle of wrapping paper, there’s stress associated with this time of year, especially for the thousands of North Carolinians tasked with caring for a loved one. Adding to their concern are waiting lists for existing services across the state that help support family caregivers.

Lou Henderson of Maxton understands the stress of being a caregiver. After caring for his ailing wife for 20 years, he made the tough decision to place her in a nursing facility, “It got to the place where it was affecting me more than it was her, so I had to do something or I was going to be ended up somewhere. It’s not sad. It’s just something I knew I had to do.”

November is National Family Caregivers Month. According to AARP, there are an estimated 42,000,000 caregivers in the US. There are resources available to help people care for their loved ones. Many of them can be found at caregivers.org.

Bob Palombo is president of AARP North Carolina and is also a caregiver to his mother. He says the holidays are a particular time of stress for caregivers as they juggle holiday and family obligations and his organization is doing what it can to reach out to them, “Caregivers don’t always ask for help. They do it because it’s a service to their parent or relative and they don’t like to seek help in all cases, and we need to be able to provide the information and resources for them.”

Nationwide, it’s estimated family caregivers provide an estimated 450,000,000 dollars worth of unpaid care to aging relatives and friends.

Palombo says state lawmakers should recognize the financial value of the service caregivers provide,”Those caregivers save the state millions and millions of dollars by taking care of that as opposed to someone going into another facility. We need to help these seniors.”

Experts say it’s important for caregivers to recognize the signs of stress and burnout in taking care of their loved ones, find support from others and ask for help.

Agreement Reached in Red Wolf Lawsuit against Wildlife Commission

Agreement Reached in Red Wolf Lawsuit against Wildlife Commission RALEIGH,
N.C. (Nov. 14, 2014) – An agreement has been reached in a lawsuit against
the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which will restore conditional
coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction area of eastern
North Carolina.

The agreement will restore daytime coyote hunting on private lands in Dare,
Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties by licensed or otherwise
authorized hunters, with a special permit obtained from the Wildlife
Commission and subsequent reporting of kill. In the other 95 counties of the
state, coyote hunters may hunt during daytime or at night using artificial
lights, and no special permit or reporting of coyote harvests is required.

The agreement stems from a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law
Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the
Animal Welfare Institute. The suit alleged the N.C. Wildlife Resources
Commission violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing coyote
hunting in Dare, Hyde, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Washington counties where a
non-essential experimental re-introduction of the red wolf is occurring. A
court-ordered injunction issued in May halted coyote hunting in the five
counties, except under extremely limited circumstances.

This agreement restores opportunities for landowners and others to manage
coyotes on their properties through daytime hunting. Coyotes are found in
all 100 counties of the state and pose a predatory threat to pets, livestock
and native wildlife. Hunting and trapping are effective tools for landowners
to manage coyote populations on a localized basis.

Restoration of coyote hunting in the five-county red wolf reintroduction
area requires the Commission invoke rulemaking to implement these changes.
This process will be initiated as quickly as possible. Interested persons
will be able to follow the progress of rulemaking by visiting
www.ncwildlife.org.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission requested a programmatic review of
the red wolf reintroduction in June. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will
evaluate the program in the areas of science, management and public
attitudes. The evaluation will be used to determine whether the red wolf
introduction program is meeting the goals and objectives established under
special rules of the Endangered Species Act. That determination is expected
to be finalized in early 2015.

Landowners are permitted to “take” or kill a red wolf or a coyote if it
attacks their livestock or pets, or if it endangers human life. A red wolf
that is killed incidentally by any type of legal activity, such as hunting
coyotes following state regulations, does not constitute a violation of
federal regulations, provided that the taking is not intentional or willful.
It also must be reported within 24 hours to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service at 1-855-496-5837 or N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at
1-800-662-7137.

Forest Service proposes logging Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest

In what conservation groups flag as a dramatic shift, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing industrial-scale logging in the vast majority of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina — about 700,000 acres, or an area bigger than the Great Smoky Mountain National Park — instead of protecting popular backcountry recreation destinations and conserving the Blue Ridge landscapes treasured by residents and tourists from across the United States.

“Under the law and for everyone who enjoys America’s forests, the Forest Service’s first priority should be fixing the mistakes of the past — restoring the parts of the forest already damaged by prior logging,” said DJ Gerken, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But the misguided logging plan proposed by the agency will repeat those old mistakes, causing more damage and putting the healthiest forests we have left on the chopping block. The people who use and love these forests won’t stand for cutting them down.”

The Forest Service’s new proposal would inevitably increase logging over the levels of recent years, though the precise amount has not been disclosed.

“This increase would come from ramping up logging all over the forest, including backcountry areas like the South Mills River area, home to the popular Black Mountain Trail,” said Hugh Irwin, conservation planner for The Wilderness Society.

According to Forest Service documents, such areas would be managed for “timber production,” which it interprets as “the purposeful growing and harvesting of crops of trees to be cut into logs.”

This industrial-style logging would also require cutting new roads for trucks and equipment into sensitive, unspoiled backcountry areas.

“Not only is that destructive and disruptive, it’s also fiscally irresponsible,” said Irwin. “The agency shouldn’t be expanding its road system when it can’t even afford to maintain the roads it already has.”

Agency reports confirm that the Forest Service has less than 13 percent of the funds needed to maintain its existing roads, leading to safety and water quality problems. Several popular roads remain closed due to unrepaired washouts.

“This proposal is absolutely the wrong direction for the forest,” said Ben Prater, director of conservation for Wild South. “Times have changed, and our mountain economy doesn’t depend just on logging anymore. We should be capitalizing on our wonderful Blue Ridge forests, not cutting them down. Treating practically the entire Pisgah-Nantahala as a ‘crop’ is simply irresponsible.”

The Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest has become a tourism and recreation destination, and revenue generated by visitors is a major driver of the western North Carolina economy. The National Forests of North Carolina are the third most visited national forest in the country. Industrial logging not only damages scenery and natural features, which are the key draw for half of those visits, but also requires popular areas to be closed to the public for months at a time while trees are being cut.

“They’re our public lands,” said Prater. “Where is the balance?”
Public participation is important to the planning process underway, in which the U.S. Forest Service will decide how to manage the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests for the next 15 years.

The public can comment by email at NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us.

Board of Elections Holds Canvass

Boards of election in all 100 counties were slated to meet Friday morning for what’s called the canvass. Outstanding provisional ballots and mail-in absentee votes deemed lawfully cast are added to candidate totals, which are also checked for math errors.

After that’s completed, candidates in very close races have until late Monday afternoon or noon Tuesday — depending on the contest — to request recounts.

The State Board of Elections is supposed to meet Nov. 25 to certify most results, including the U.S. Senate race.

NC Breathes a Little Easier in 2014, Literally.

gr-42838-1-1It’s the time of year when North Carolinians are holding their breath for the next freeze warning, but the latest data on 2014 ozone levels in the state indicates people can take a small sigh of relief about the air they breathe. Ozone levels in the state were the lowest on record this year.

It’s the first time the state hasn’t exceeded the federal ozone standard since the 1970s, but June Blotnick with Clean Air Carolina says with ozone levels in metro areas such as Charlotte still hitting 75 parts per billion, there is more work to be done, “While we can celebrate the decreasing levels of ozone in the state, our work is far from over to improve air quality to where it’s healthy. ”

While ozone levels were at record low levels for the second time in the last two years, the EPA is expected to release updated federal ozone standards in December. Blotnick says their standard could be between 60 and 70 parts per billion, which would place levels in many metropolitan cities above federal standards.

The improved ozone levels are believed to be a result of cooler temperatures this summer and reduced emissions from power plants. Blotnick says there is support from groups such as hers, elected officials and citizens to expand clean energy in North Carolina, “North Carolina is really in a great position in the country to improve our air quality even more and create jobs by reducing carbon from the power sector. ”

A Division of Air Quality report shows that the state’s coal-fired power plants have cut their nitrogen oxide emissions by at least 80% since 2002.

Coal Ash Clean Up Debate Continues

North Carolina regulators have ordered Duke Energy to resubmit its proposal for assessing theextent of groundwater contamination leaking from 33 coal ash dumps across the state after deeming the company’s current plans “inadequate.”

The N.C. Division of Water Resources has given Duke 30 days to resubmit the plans with a list of proposed changes. Duke is required to perform the assessments by a new state law passed in response to the massive Feb. 2 spill at a plant in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge.

Coal ash contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury. State regulators have said all of Duke’s unlined waste pits are contaminating groundwater. Duke had submitted its required monitoring plans to the state in September.

SBA Backs Almost Half a Billion Dollars to North Carolina Small Businesses in 2014

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs placed almost half a billion dollars into the hands of North Carolina small businesses during fiscal year ended September 30, 2014, guarantying 845 loans for almost $449 million.

During the year, 746 loans were approved through its flagship 7(a) program for almost $383 million. Through SBA’s 504 fixed-asset financing program, Certified Development Companies approved 99 loans for about $66.1 million. That’s down 3.5% in dollars over 2013, when SBA approved 917 loans for over $465 million.

“Almost half a billion dollars in SBA funding enabled small businesses to create jobs and support our state’s economy,” said SBA District Director Lynn Douthett. “Thanks to all of our lending partners who provide the access to capital that help our small businesses grow and succeed.

Wells Fargo was North Carolina’s top 7(a) lender ranked by number of loans, with 160 for almost $48 million. Yadkin Bank landed the number two spot with 69 loans for over $78 million.

Business Expansion Funding Corporation (BEFCOR) was the state’s top certified development company in 504 loans. BEFCOR approved 46 loans for $25.7 million. Self-Help Ventures Fund followed with 32 loans for $19.4 million.