Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Aug. 19

The Fayetteville Observer on an Environmental Protection Agency listening session:

We were heartened and encouraged by what we saw and heard at an EPA listening session in Fayetteville last week. After all we'd heard about the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, it was a different song in a crowded meeting room at the Crown Coliseum. Here were the leaders of the EPA's key programs, telling us what steps they were taking to protect residents of the Cape Fear River Basin from the emerging contaminants known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

It appears they will be steps of substance and significance, not window dressing. We saw that there is already a productive partnership between the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality, whose efforts in dealing with GenX and related PFAS chemicals have been frustrated by state lawmakers who have refused many of the agency's funding requests. But the EPA has stepped in and assisted in many areas of the GenX response. EPA officials said that cooperation would continue.

And we were pleased to hear that the federal regulators are working to establish realistic safety guidelines for GenX and other PFAS chemicals. The EPA's "toxicity value" for GenX should be announced by the end of next month. The agency is also working on guidelines for PFAS cleanups in areas where there are dangerous concentrations of it. The chemicals, widely used in processes as divergent as waterproof clothing, cookware coatings and firefighting foam, are prevalent in the environment around the country, but especially concentrated in a few locations — including here in the Cape Fear region.

What we saw last Tuesday in Fayetteville was a remarkable coalition of federal and state environmental officials who came together to outline action already underway against GenX and other PFAS chemicals, including specific steps to protect residents here whose air, water and land have become polluted by the chemicals.

But then, we're increasingly seeing two EPAs, the one whose officials visited Fayetteville and the one whose politically appointed leaders may still be working to undermine the agency's responses to problems like ours. We saw that later last week, as N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein joined 14 other state attorneys general in a letter challenging a draft EPA policy that would prevent the EPA from using any scientific studies — even peer-reviewed work — that haven't been made available to the public in their entirety. Stein said last week that the policy would force the EPA "to ignore many key health studies, since legally required confidentiality protections prevent making those studies' data public."

The policy, developed on the watch of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, is another step by this administration to ignore science and scientific advice whenever it conflicts with political agendas.

The letter was sent to Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is running the EPA in the wake of Pruitt's June resignation. Pruitt was a one-man scandal generator who faced numerous ethics complaints and serious questions about his dealings with many pollution-generating industries. The 33-page letter from the attorneys general concludes that this is Wheeler's opportunity to take a better path. "We urge the EPA to jettison this tainted vestige of prior leadership and restore public confidence in the agency's commitment to its core mission, and we stand ready to pursue legal remedies should the EPA persist in this misguided effort."

In a region beset with problems arising from GenX and related PFAS compounds, as well as water contaminated by chemicals like the carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane, the EPA's next steps will be telling — and of critical importance to the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of residents of the Cape Fear Basin, some of whom have been drinking PFAS-contaminated water for as long as four decades.

In the next few months, as the EPA releases its guidelines for PFAS and GenX safety and cleanup, we'll know which version of the agency — the professional or the political — is looking out for us.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com

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Aug. 21

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the toppling of a Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Silent Sam came down Monday night in Chapel Hill, long after he should have and no thanks to the people who should have done it. And when it finally happened, when the statue was toppled and students sang and social media celebrated, the adults in the room stepped forward to remind us why this had taken so long.

University of North Carolina officials were first, hiding behind a nameless statement sent out late Monday. Did that statement acknowledge how the 1913 statue had long been a source of pain on campus, how Silent Sam's tribute to anonymous Confederate soldiers had long been overtaken by the statue's deeply racist roots? No. UNC officials instead wagged their finger like parents. "Tonight's actions were dangerous," the statement said, "and we are very fortunate no one was injured."

Chancellor Carol Folt later acknowledged the statue was a "source of frustration" for many, and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper's office offered its own tsk tsk, saying that he "understands that many people are frustrated by the pace of change and he shares their frustration, but violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities."

Ah, the "pace of change." We know about this. It's a story that's been told countless times throughout our history, and though Monday's events don't carry anything close to the import of events a half-century ago throughout the South, there certainly were notes that rang familiar.

Back then, it was quiet whites who knew things needed to change regarding civil rights, yet didn't think change should happen that way. But none of those well-meaning whites could quite say how progress might actually come, and none could say exactly when the good people of Alabama and Mississippi might finally decide to give black people their dignity and the right to vote. So it was up to others to give change a nudge, and more. That's the way it so often works. That's the way it worked Monday in Chapel Hill.

And no, we don't believe that vandalism is a path to meaningful progress. But if someone had in fact been hurt when Silent Sam fell to the ground, at least some of the responsibility would have been borne by a legislature that passed a law protecting the statue, and by those who dragged their feet on demanding change, and who in their inaction were making a choice, anyway. We suspect that those same officials, including our governor, might be a bit relieved that Silent Sam finally fell to the ground, and that they could say all the responsible things that folks like to hear.

What matters more this morning — to UNC students and others — is that Silent Sam is down. One more monument to racism gone. One more reminder that instead of waiting for change, sometimes you have to pull it toward you.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com

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Aug. 19

Times-News of Hendersonville on the state Department of Transportation's road planning process:

No matter how many meetings local leaders hold on road plans, or how many newspaper articles are written about them, some residents get caught off guard.

This was the case with the Balfour Parkway, which was derailed by widespread public opposition late in the state's planning process. And it is likely to happen again with future projects until the N.C. Department of Transportation changes its road planning process.

Local leaders and DOT brainstormed ways to better communicate with the public at a meeting of the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee on Aug 15. They cited the failed Balfour Parkway as an example of miscommunication and widespread frustration.

DOT Division 14 engineer Brian Burch acknowledged the department faces challenges statewide in communicating with the public on how projects are proposed, planned and funded. Some members of the public don't know the road projects are happening at all, and often don't find out until they're contacted by DOT because their home will potentially be impacted, he said.

DOT has been considering ideas to bring the information to the public, especially those who aren't engaged or looking for it, he said. Among ideas considered is sponsoring advertisements in social media targeted at residents where projects are planned.

That might work to inform some people who spend more time on social media than on traditional news sources. But it won't reach people who are truly disengaged in local affairs. Many people are just so busy working and raising families that they don't pay attention until a change is proposed that affects them personally.

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Of course, DOT has to consider regional traffic patterns, environmental and historic concerns, and long-range growth projections as well as public desires. But given the failure of the Balfour Parkway, the state has nothing to lose and everything to gain by seeking residents' input earlier in the road planning process, and in the areas where they live.

Online: http://www.blueridgenow.com/