North Carolina editorial roundup

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Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

June 21

News Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on coal-ash cleanup:

Well, it's progress. The state Senate has improved some proposals on regulating power plant residue. A huge spill in February dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River, and Duke Energy's coal ash disposal has been Topic A in Raleigh since.

Gov. Pat McCrory, himself a long-time employee of Duke until his retirement, came up with a plan for regulation and cleanup that was underwhelming.

The goals of any regulatory plan are simply these: Duke has to determine and implement a better and safer disposal method. Duke must clean up what has happened without burdening ratepayers with the tab. The state must establish strict regulatory oversight of residue disposal to make sure this doesn't happen again. Those responsible must be held to answer in a thorough investigation.

Because Republicans have done their best to do away with as many environmental regulations as possible since taking over the General Assembly, they now face a special test. They have long claimed they are pro-business, not anti-environmental regulation. But their actions have not indicated much interest in balancing the needs of business with the need to protect the state's valuable, and finite, natural resources.

So here's the test: The coal ash spill stirred a lot of public interest in seeing that Duke Energy take care of this problem. Fouled rivers have a way of getting people's attention. Republicans now have a real chance to demonstrate their commitment to environmental safety.

The Senate has a coal ash bill that would demand closure of all 33 coal ash storage ponds in the state within 15 years and establish a commission to oversee those plans and look for alternatives to using coal ash in construction to help get rid of 100 million tons of the stuff.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2016, also has put Republicans on the spot by saying what many residents are thinking: Duke and its shareholders should pay the costs of coal ash cleanup and not put it on consumers.

The coal ash crisis was long in coming, an environmental hazard waiting to happen. The state must not go easily or too patiently into the world of regulating something that clearly hasn't been regulated enough, if at all.

This was not the GOP's mess. But it is the GOP's test.

Online:

http://www.newsobserver.com

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June 23

The Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina, on sensible tougher penalties:

We're often leery when lawmakers begin talking about being tougher on crime. Too often, that discussion has involved scoring cheap political points and over-reacting to perceived threats. Witness, for example, the pipeline to prison that has been facilitated by overly tough drug laws that lock people up for long periods - most frequently young men of color - for relatively minor offenses.

But several proposals to tweak some North Carolina laws with stiffer penalties make sense. At the same time, it's worrisome that a broadly supported effort to raise the age at which teenagers are tried as adults instead of juveniles seems to have stalled after bipartisan approval in the state House.

The tougher penalties would, as such changes inevitably mean, put more people into state prisons. That's not the burden it might be since, providentially, lower crime rates have actually resulted in empty prison beds. And many misdemeanor convictions now land the defendant in county jail, not state prison.

One especially reasonable set of tougher penalties involves cellphones in prisons, which seem to be alarmingly prevalent although it is illegal to pass a cellphone to an inmate and against prison rules for an inmate to possess one.

The juvenile crime legislation - called "Raising the Age" by its supporters - cleared the house May 21 by a vote of 77-39. But it has been stalled in the state Senate since without so much as being referred to a committee. It's not clear why the delay has occurred.

The bill would put 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system for most crimes, rather than trying them as adults and sending them into the prison system if convicted.

As raisetheagenc.com puts it, "Adult jails can turn kids into career criminals, with tax payers footing the bill. By Raising the Age of how we punish and straighten out kids who make minor mistakes, we'll keep . our communities safer, our kids on the right track, our tax dollars working toward common sense solutions rather than perpetuating problems."

The Senate should pass the House bill before the short session ends in a matter of weeks.

Online:

http://www.heraldsun.com

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June 23

Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal on mental-health care reform fight:

For years now, adults have been chipping away at reforming North Carolina's mental-health-care system. Progress has been slow. So we welcome some new recruits to the cause from Girl Scout Troop 41669 of Clemmons.

The girls, motivated by their quest for one of the top service awards in their organization, looked around at what was going on in their lives and the lives of their friends to see where they could help, the Journal's Lisa O'Donnell reported. They didn't have to look far. "What they saw were peers, who, at times, felt stressed out and overburdened from academics, athletics and social life," O'Donnell wrote.

The girls all knew someone who had faced such issues. One of them recalled getting a late-night text from someone who was suicidal.

Melissa Sawyer, Grace Smith, Hannah Register and Sydney Schamay - all West Forsyth students - came to a consensus: They wanted most to help friends and classmates struggling with mental-health matters.

A committee at CenterPoint Human Services, which oversees public mental-health-care services in the area, awarded the girls a $500 grant for their efforts to reach fellow West Forsyth students.

The girls want to include information about mental-health resources in the Power Point presentation given during freshmen orientation each summer. They've met with Principal Charles McAninch and Cindy Zimmerman, the head of guidance at West Forsyth, who like the idea.

The CenterPoint grant will to go toward the project, including helping the girls set up a domain name and website "that will serve as a sort of teen-friendly directory of mental health resources," O'Donnell wrote.

Other girls in the troop will participate in the effort, which will become a multi-year one.

Dr. Dennis Lynch, a member of CenterPoint's Mental Health/Substance Abuse Advisory Committee, welcomed the girls to the fight.

"You're going to get on the ground level," he told them recently. "We adults are still trying to figure out what's going on."

Online:

http://www.journalnow.com

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