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April 25, 2016

Chamber reaffirms opposition to seismic blasting

 
Although the federal government has delayed by at least five years the issuance of oil and gas leases for drilling in the North Atlantic Ocean, the threat of seismic blasting continues to linger.

The Chamber’s Executive Committee recommends that the U.S. Department of the Interior move swiftly to ban seismic survey work as well

The Chamber’s Board of Directors voted unanimously September 5 to adopt a “Resolution to Oppose Exploration for Oil & Gas and Seismic Blasting Off the Coast of North Carolina.”

“Offshore exploration…and associated seismic blasting…represent a direct threat to the coastal environment of North Carolina, by creating the risk of pollution and by causing harmful effects to marine mammals, turtles, fish, migratory birds and other aquatic life,” the Chamber stated. 

“While we are grateful the Obama administration listened to part of the message – the risks of pollution to potentially destroy tourism and the environment – the Chamber remains opposed to seismic blasting,” said Chamber Chair Bucky Oliver of The Boathouse at Front Street Village.

“The scientific data show seismic blasting causes underwater, industrial-level noise impacts that are stressful to right whales.  The effects are hazardous to the health and fitness of these whales and impairs their reproduction, as is documented by a drastic and dramatic drop in calving rates since 1998,” he said.

“The right whale is already among the most endangered whales on the planet, with only about 500 individuals remaining.  Scientists tell us that seismic blasting may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale, leading to eventual extinction.

“We understand that the next whale status review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is scheduled for 2017.

“The responsible solution is to stop seismic test permitting now and to reassess the situation after NOAA completes the whale review,” Oliver said. 

A bill was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate to “prohibit any and all seismic activity” off the East Coast of the United States. 

“We will be closely following S. 2841, introduced by New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menéndez, both Democrats,” said Chamber President Mike Wagoner.  “The legislation is titled the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection (ASAP) Act, to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Already, three Senators have signed on as co-sponsors:  Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Sens. Booker and Menendez spoke about their bill on Earth Day (April 22) at Montclair (N.J.) State University. 

“It’s a bill that will prohibit fossil fuel-related seismic testing and take another important step forward in protecting our oceans for generations to come,” Sen. Booker said. 

Sen. Menéndez said:  “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment, and allowing seismic testing in the Atlantic is an abdication of that responsibility.  We will continue to stand up for the values of New Jerseyans over the profit of the big oil industry.”

S. 2841 has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Maine. 

The Chamber will encourage North Carolina’s Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans, to co-sponsor and support this ASAP bill…ASAP, Oliver said. 
 
 

Editorial Commentary:

Right whale is near and dear to Carteret County

 
If seismic blasting is allowed to occur in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, it could wipe out the remaining population of right whales.

This is the learned opinion of 28 marine scientists who say the loud noise generated by seismic, underwater testing would be gravely harmful to the health of the whales.  It is believed that only 500 right whales exist today.  The right whale is an endangered species.

Dr. Doug Nowacek, an Associate Professor who is affiliated with the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, is one of the 28 researchers who signed the recent letter to President Barack Obama asking him to put an immediate halt to seismic blasting. 

Dr. Nowacek spoke to more than 100 people last week in Morehead City who attended the “Shore Stories” film festival and panel discussion at Carteret Community College. 

He said loud noises cause stress to right whales.  Too much stress could be fatal to the survival of the species. 

Dr. Nowacek mentioned that the Carteret County Coat of Arms prominently features two right whales.  Indeed it does. 

Perhaps Carteret County officials will join in a community-wide effort to protect the whales, thereby avoiding the need to have to go back to the College of Arms in London, England, to get a new one made.

According to Carteret County documents: 
The silver diamonds on the shield are representative of the Coat of Arms of the original Sir George Carteret family.  He was one of the eight Lord Proprietors of Carolina, so named by King Charles II in 1668.  (Carteret County was named for John Carteret, grandson of Sir George.)

The black tridents are representative of Neptune, Roman god of the sea. 

The yale is a mythical heraldic beast atop the helmet.  On the Carteret County Coat of Arms, this creature has a body of an antelope with curved horns and a lion’s tale. 

The black right whales appear quite jovial and are there as “supporters,” appropriate for an oceanside community like Carteret County. 

(The “supporters” come from the practice of a Knight’s aides dressing in various animal costumes to attract challenges at tournaments.  Today, one assumes these roles would be filled by various county government department chiefs.)

The idea for a Carteret County Coat of Arms was brought before the Board of Commissioners in 1976 by Emily Loftin and Thelma Simpson

The request was officially made by John Kenneth Newsome, Chair of the Board of Commissioners at the time, and submitted to the Officer in Waiting of the College of Arms.  The process involves approval by the Earl Marshall and the eventual signing of the “letters patent” by the King of Arms. 

The unveiling of the Carteret County Coat of Arms occurred in 1977 in the Driftwood Restaurant at Cedar Island.  You can view the original in the Carteret County Board of Commissioners Room in the Courthouse in Beaufort.

It may also be a fiscally prudent act by today’s Board of Commissioners to join in the movement to save the right whales. 

The going rate charged by the College of Arms for a new Coat of Arms, as advertised on its official website today, is 12,100 British Pounds Sterling, the equivalent of $17,410.57 in U.S. currency.
 
Mike Wagoner, Chamber President
 
 

Chamber leaders ask Congress
to block change in ‘overtime rules’
 

The Chamber’s Executive Committee is fully supportive of the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act introduced in the U.S. Congress in March of 2016.  This legislation is S. 2707 and H.R. 4733

“We want to express our thanks to Senator Thom Tillis for being a co-sponsor of the U.S. Senate bill,” said Chamber Chair Bucky Oliver.  “We are also encouraging Senator Richard Burr to become a co-sponsor.” 

In the U.S. House of Representatives, two North Carolina Congressmen are co-sponsoring the bill – Representatives Virginia Foxx, R-Banner Elk, and Mark Walker, R-Greensboro. 

“We think our Representative – Walter Jones – needs to become a bill co-sponsor as well,” Oliver said.

“We view this measure with a sense of urgency, and we urge the Congress to act swiftly to prevent the U.S. Department of Labor from changing the regulations related to overtime pay.  Changing the annual salary ceiling for exempt employee status from $23,600 to $50,440 is unfair, unjustified and unwarranted.” 

If the change is allowed to occur, Oliver said all employees earning less than $50,440 would be entitled to draw overtime pay for any hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour work week.  “Essentially, these salaried employees would be ‘reclassified by the Department of Labor’ to become hourly workers. 

“Many of our small businesses and not-for-profit organizations would suffer financial hardships, as budget restraints would prevent them from being able to cover the additional expenses associated with overtime pay.  Furthermore, it could destroy the underlying foundation of these businesses/organizations, reducing the level of services to customers, clients and/or members.”

“Clearly, we must rein in the Department of Labor from overstepping its bounds into the private sector with apparent total disregard for the economic upheaval this change would have all across America.”
 
 

North Carolina has a plan to ‘widen the gap’
as America’s ‘most military friendly state’

 
(Part 1 of a Series)
 
When the North Carolina General Assembly goes back into session at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday, April 25), legislators will find on their desks a new strategic plan designed to enhance North Carolina’s support for the U.S. military services.

“Let’s hope all of our lawmakers read it from cover to cover and take necessary actions to solidify North Carolina’s commitment to be America’s most military friendly state,” said Bucky OliverChair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.  “The military is big business in North Carolina and a powerful economic driver.”

North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation for having the highest number of military-related jobs.  Only California, Texas and Virginia have more.

The military is the second leading industry in North Carolina.  Agriculture is Number One; tourism is Number Three.

The “military sector” contributes about $66 billion a year to North Carolina’s economy, representing 15 percent of the gross state product. 

Credit the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission (NCMAC) for developing its 19-page action plan to “Support and Enhance North Carolina Military Missions and Installations.” 

“Our report lays out recommendations that accelerate and fortify North Carolina’s support for its military installations, military families and all of the supporting businesses and infrastructure required to keep the state a leader in military preparedness for decades to come,” says Cornell Wilson Jr., Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.  (He is a retired Marine Corps Major General.)

The Army’s Fort Bragg (Fayetteville and Cumberland County) is the largest military installation in the state, with more than 65,000 military and civilian jobs, and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville and Onslow County) is second, with more than 45,000 military and civilian jobs.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point (Havelock and Craven County) is prominently mentioned in the report as well.  It is the largest Marine Air Station in the world and the home base for the 2nd Marine Air Wing.  Additionally, Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC East) aboard Cherry Point is the nation’s “Vertical Lift Center of Excellence” and the largest industrial employer east of I-95.

The strategic plan encourages the state to campaign for “early deployment of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighters to Cherry Point.”  As it stands now, the Marine Corps plans to assign Cherry Point the largest allotment of F-35Bs…but Cherry Point is last in line to start receiving the aircraft.  The first squadron of F-35Bs is not expected to arrive at Cherry Point until fiscal year 2023. 

The report suggests North Carolina invest in and around its military installations

“The military must be viewed as an ‘economic development’ opportunity for the state, and the state needs to ‘court the military,’ just as it would private enterprise,” Oliver said.

The report asserts that FRC East is “the best operational choice” for the location of the F-35B Lift Fan Maintenance and Test Facility.  North Carolina needs to “second the motion” and work to secure this important designation by “aggressively recruiting F-35B maintenance and logistics suppliers to locate in eastern North Carolina – bringing high-tech jobs and increasing efficiency for FRC East.”

Another area where North Carolina “can put its money where its mouth is” to be the most military friendly state in America is to invest in infrastructure improvements

Transportation is at the top of that list – the North Carolina Department of Transportation needs to have the flexibility and authority to fast-track highway, rail and port projects to serve military interests…and just do it.
 
Mike Wagoner, Chamber President
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