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Radon Testing in North Carolina

As the turning of the seasons brings colder weather and North Carolinians snuggle in their households keeping doors and windows closed to stay warm, it is an excellent time to make plans for home radon testing.

Radon is the odorless, colorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Each year up to 22,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to radon-induced lung cancer. Roughly 54 percent of those diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer are expected to live no more than five years after diagnosis.

The Radon Program, part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, provides information to families and homeowners about radon gas. Information includes how to test for radon gas and how to lower the radon levels within a home. Lowering the radon levels in a home lowers the risk of lung cancer.

Eighty-three agencies and organizations across North Carolina are partnering with the Radon Program during January – National Radon Action Month – to provide free short-term radon test kits. Limited supplies of test kits are being made available locally at each of the sites, listed on the Radon Program website: www.ncradon.org. Nearly 7,000 kits are being distributed statewide. Only one kit is needed per home to determine if your home radon level requires action.

The Radon Program also offers the free kits via its website. Once the supply of free kits has been exhausted, the Radon Program website will provide radon test kits at a reduced cost of $5.34 while supplies last. Kits cost about $15 at retail outlets.

The program’s website includes a new radon map application. The application provides information about the number of tests that have been conducted within a zip code as well as the highest radon level recorded in that zip code. The app also links to a list of certified professionals who can assist in testing or fixing the radon issue in tested homes that return readings above a safe level.

Costs for lowering home radon levels average about $1,500. The N.C. Radon Protection Section provides information on its web page for families who may qualify for financial assistance to meet that expense. For more information visit www.ncradon.org and select Financial Assistance from the navigation aid in the left margin.

Do New Solar Rules for NC Allow for Slow-Walking Contracts?

 Rules for solar power in North Carolina remain intact under an order the state Utilities Commission recently released. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rules for solar power in North Carolina remain intact under an order the state Utilities Commission recently released. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As North Carolinians rang in the New Year, state regulators released long-anticipated rules for solar power in the state. Solar developers wanted expanded eligibility for contracts, and utilities proposed measures that would limit access. The state Utilities Commission rejected both proposals and kept the basic framework for solar the same.

egal counsel with NC WARN, John Runkle, says the issue at hand is that the real value of solar is not being recognized, and the rules allow Duke Energy to slow-walk contract and interconnection negotiations, “A contract might take six months, eight months, nine months. Rather than, I mean it’s a pretty well understood technology. As much money as you want to spend on solar, there’s someone willing to put up a good solid solar system for you.”

Runkle says the price of solar has gone down considerably, and there is great potential to expand it around the state. But he adds that without timely contracts and consistent rates, investors can become discouraged and turn away from profitable solar projects.

Duke has been cited as saying it does support solar development, and a spokesman recently pointed to the 278 megawatts of solar capacity the utility has contracted to build or buy power from this year. But Runkle says just four percent of Duke’s projected total sales are solar, and he adds that much more solar power would be available if the company would offer standard contracts in a timely fashion, “Last year NC WARN and some other organizations put solar panels on 250 rooftops. If there were a way to do that more efficiently we could easily double that, triple that, and the big companies could put on a considerable more amount of solar.”

According to a recent report from Environment North Carolina, solar grew 127% between 2010 and 2013. It also found that the state has the potential to produce more than 30 times as much electricity from solar power as the state consumes each year.

Beware of Flu Symptoms

Along with New Year celebrations, January brings a warning from local doctors that this is one of the most active months for the flu. With the CDC announcing that the flu has reached empidemic levels, AFC/Doctors Epxress physicians want to raise awareness about the difference between the flu and a “stomach bug” so people know when it’s time to see the doctor and when they can take care of their sympoms at home.

One of the biggest myths about the flu is that is causes vomitting. But the flu is actually a highly contagious respiratory disease and vomiting is not on the list of flu symptoms. Our doctors have been seeing several different stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) go around which are contagious infections of the stomach and intestines.

Symptoms of the flu:

fever
headache
muscle aches
sore throat
cough
chills
runny nose
fatigue
*The biggest danger of the flu is that it wears your body’s ability to fight other infections that you may get while you have the flu, such as pneumonia. Sometimes these infections can cause death.

Symptoms of the “stomach bug:” (gastroenteritis)

nausea
vomiting and/or diarrhea
possible fever
*Most people recover completely. Stomach bugs can be serious for infants and the elderly who are unable to drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through vomiting and/or diarrhea.

According to the CDC, flu activity is “high” in nearly half the country. And, the past 32 flu seasons have shown that February is the most active month for the flu, followed by December and then January.

Smoke-free Law Continues to Return Benefits After Five Years

Friday, Jan. 2, marks the fifth anniversary of North Carolina’s smoke-free restaurants and bars law. The smoke-free law prohibits smoking in enclosed areas of most restaurants and bars, with limited exceptions for private clubs and some cigar bars.

The health outcome results for this law are significant and impressive, especially in such a short period of time, according to Ruth Petersen, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section of the N.C. Division of Public Health.

“During the first year of the law, North Carolina saw a 21 percent drop in average weekly emergency department visits for heart attacks. Further studies demonstrate the law has improved air quality in North Carolina restaurants and bars and reduced emergency department visits for asthma attacks.”

An additional benefit of the smoke-free law is the reduced exposure to secondhand smoke, a known risk factor for cancer, heart disease, stroke and asthma. In 2006, a report issued by the United States Surgeon General stated that scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

“The smoke-free law was an important milestone for North Carolina,” said Cumberland County Health Director Buck Wilson, incoming president of the N.C. Association of Local Health Directors. “The law changed the way we look at smoking and secondhand smoke. It’s hard to imagine going backwards; people in North Carolina really enjoy their smoke-free restaurants and bars.”

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) worked to help pass the statewide law, which not only prohibits smoking indoors in virtually all restaurants and bars, but also specifies that no more than 20 percent of a lodging establishment’s guest rooms may be designated for smoking.

“NCRLA is proud to support this initiative, which improves the health and well-being of North Carolina hospitality patrons and employees,” said NCLRA President and CEO Lynn Minges. “The smoke-free law has helped create a safer, more pleasant atmosphere in our state’s bars and restaurants without harming our industry’s bottom line.”

Make a Plan: Tips to Stay Safe at New Year’s Parties

Nationwide, as many as 800 people die in car crashes involving a drunk driver every December. It’s why this month is one of the most dangerous times on the nation’s roads and why organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are working hard to make sure people take precautions so they don’t hurt themselves or someone else.

Jan Withers is the national president of MADD, “We know too much now. We all know about designated drivers. We all know the dangers, but the key is not to decide after you’ve had some alcohol in your system. We really need to make a sober decision – before we ever start drinking – how we’re going to get home safely.”

Last year, 366 people died in drunk-driving accidents in North Carolina, costing the state more than two-billion dollars. Withers says in addition to planning for your own safe ride home, it’s important to evaluate the alcohol intake of your friends before letting them leave a holiday party, and don’t be afraid to prevent them from getting behind the wheel.

Withers knows first-hand the devastation drunk driving can cause, having lost her daughter to a drunk driver 23 years ago, “Some days it seems like yesterday because the pain is so intense, and sometimes, of course, it seems like a lifetime ago – but, indeed, the hole in my heart never goes away.”

This month, local police departments and the state Highway Patrol are planning additional patrols for drunk drivers. If you witness a suspected drunk driver, you can call *FHP from your cell phone. Drivers caught while driving impaired face an automatic suspension of their driving privileges for 30 days while they await trial and the possibility of losing their license for at least a year after their first conviction.

North Carolina surpasses Michigan to become the nation’s ninth-most populous state

North Carolina grew by 95,047 people during a 12-month period ending in 2014 and surpassed Michigan to become the ninth-most populous state in the nation, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“People want to live in a place where they can fulfill their potential,” Governor McCrory said, “And for an increasing number of Americans and people throughout the world, that place is North Carolina.”

The governor cited job creation, lower taxes and the state’s quality of life as some of the reasons for North Carolina’s growth.

The Census Bureau pegged the state’s population at 9,943,964. The population increase of 95,047 was the sixth-largest in the nation from July 1, 2013 until July 1, 2014. In 2010, North Carolina’s population was 9,535,483 and 8,049,313 in 2000.

The Census Bureau produces population estimates each year, allowing the public to gauge the growth and demographic composition of the nation, states and communities.

FALLING GAS PRICES HELP BOOST NORTH CAROLINA YEAR-END HOLIDAY TRAVEL TO RECORD NUMBERS

Nearly three million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, according to AAA Carolinas.

The record number – 2,939,500 – represents an increase of 113,000 compared to last year. An estimated 2,675,000, or 91% of total travelers, plan to drive to their destination.

“Falling gas prices and an improving economy has led to more North Carolinians traveling to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year with family and friends,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “With most people hitting the roads during this time, we want to stress the importance of buckling up, avoiding drinking and driving, texting behind the wheel and speeding.”

The 13-day Christmas/New Year’s travel holiday is defined as Tuesday, Dec. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 4, which is one day longer than the travel period last year.

As the longest holiday travel period of the year, it is also one of the deadliest. Last year, 42 people died on North Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period – that’s 5 more fatalities than in 2012.

Those driving to their destinations will encounter the lowest gas prices since 2009. North Carolinians are currently paying 74 cents less for a gallon of gas than they were a year ago. Gas prices in North Carolina are 24 cents lower than they were on Thanksgiving Day. The statewide average is currently $3.48 and prices are expected to continue their decline through the start of 2015, due to an abundant supply domestically and less people driving in the winter months.

North Carolina motorists will find the cheapest gas in Charlotte at $2.43 and the most expensive gas in Boone at $2.67. For those traveling through South Carolina, the average price per gallon is 21 cents lower than North Carolina’s.

An estimated 156,700 North Carolinians will fly to their destinations, a slight increase from last year.

Driven by low-cost carriers, airfares are down 7% from a year ago, averaging $186 for the top 40 U.S routes. However, car rental rates are up 4% from a year ago to $66 per day.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels have increased by 4% from a year ago, averaging $143 per night. AAA Two Diamond hotels average $108 per night, a 5% increase from last year.

With holiday parties frequently held between Christmas and New Year’s, drunk driving is always a major problem during this travel period. AAA advises drivers to assign a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol.

North Carolina’s “Booze It & Lose It” campaign which started Dec.12 and runs through Jan. 4, includes checkpoints and stepped-up patrols to remove impaired drivers from North Carolina roads.

During the holiday period, unexpected weather or vehicle problems may leave motorists stranded. AAA Carolinas recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car that includes:
Cell phone and car charger
Blankets and flashlight with extra batteries
First aid kit
Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
Small shovel and a sack of sand or cat litter for traction
Windshield scraper
Battery booster cables
Emergency triangle reflectors
Change of clothes, including socks and shoes

North Carolina suspends most construction projects during the holiday travel period, with these exceptions:
U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction from Road Street to the Pasquotank River Bridge for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge.
U.S. 158 in Currituck and Dare counties will have traffic in a two way and a two lane pattern on the U.S. 158 Bridge over the Currituck Sound due to the ongoing deck rehabilitation.
U.S. 264 in Dare County will be reduced to one of two lanes controlled by temporary traffic signals in three locations for the replacement of three bridges. Lane closures are located between Stumpy Point and the Hyde County line.
U.S. 158 in Hertford County between Murfreesboro and Winton may be reduced to one of two lanes in the eastbound lanes for paving operations.
N.C. 12 in Dare County South of Bonner Bridge may be reduced to one of two lanes to continue clearing sand adjacent to the road from the recent nor’easter storm. Impacts should be minor.
I-440 in Raleigh is in a two-lane pattern in both directions between I-40 and U.S. 64/264. Also there may be lane closures the nights of Dec. 29 and 30.
I-73 in Guilford County is reduced to two lanes in each direction between I-40 and I-85 for a new interchange with High Point Road.

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

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.

Connect with AAA Carolinas on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AAAcarolinas and follow us on Twitter at @AAAcarolinas.

Report: A Growing Number of Unaffiliated Voters in NC

Voter turnout increased in North Carolina’s recent midterms, and several key voter sub-groups had a large part in influencing its outcome. New data released from Democracy North Carolina found that Democrats, older Americans, and African Americans all participated in greater numbers, compared to the 2010 midterm.

The biggest share of new voters came from independents – explains Bob Hall, with Democracy NC, “They tend to kind of split their tickets between this and that. It turned out that at the top of the ticket, the Republican Thom Tillis won, but all three of the Democrats running for the State Supreme Court won their seats, those are nonpartisan races.”

In spite of higher turnout for Democrats and African Americans, who tend to favor the Democratic party, Hall says Republican men still turned out in higher numbers, and Thom Tillis had greater appeal for independent voters and conservative Democrats. Alleghany, Yancey and Chatham Counties had the highest turnouts – reaching as high as 60%.

While voters age 18 to 25 increased their participation this year by three percentage points over the 2010 midterm, the youth vote still lags behind other voting blocks at just shy of 18% participation.

Bryan Perlmutter with Ignite NC says that’s why it’s imperative the state makes voting more accessible to young voters, “Young people are so important to the political process and it’s so important that they have their voices heard that the state of North Carolina needs to be making an intentional effort to make it easier for young people to vote.”

Hall says Democracy N-C’s analysis finds that the new voting rules and the subsequent voter confusion reduced overall participation by 30,000 people – which could have impacted several key races, “We want to have trained precinct officials so that people’s experience is good when they go to the polls, and if they’re slightly confused they don’t get more confused by what the precinct officials tell them.”

Hall says Hoke, Robeson and Onslow Counties had the lowest turnout.

Another Year Without Executions for NC

 Henry McCollum spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated of his crime and released. Photo courtesy of Jenny Warburg.

Henry McCollum spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated of his crime and released. Photo courtesy of Jenny Warburg.

The close of 2014 marks eight years since North Carolina has executed a person on death row. That’s also the national trend, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center. This year, three inmates were sentenced to death in North Carolina, far less than at a peak in the 1990s when as many as 30 new death sentences were handed down each year.

Gretchen Engel, who heads the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, says people are questioning the need for the death penalty with a declining crime rate, “Ironically in this period where North Carolina has had eight years of no executions, our crime rate has steadily been declining, and violent crime included. Part of it is this idea of why do we need the death penalty?”

Nationwide, executions were carried out in seven states, down from nine in 2013. Seven death row inmates were exonerated this year in the US, including two in North Carolina who were proven innocent based on DNA evidence and released.

State lawmakers vowed to re-start executions last year, but Engel says that declaration may not be practical, as more cases of botched executions prompt people to question the humanity of the punishment, “That really amounts to putting the state in the position of advocating human experimentation with drugs – and that’s just unacceptable in a civilized society. ”

North Carolina’s execution protocol calls for the use of pentobarbital, the same drug that other states have been unable to obtain for use in executions. As of now, legal challenges to the state’s protocol have suspended executions indefinitely.

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.