Monday, June 07, 2010

Environmental advocate making mark in House

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, has become one of the General Assembly's most energetic advocates of environmental legislation since coming to Raleigh in 2005. No surprise there -- Harrison has always been interested in things environmental, but after an uncertain start in the legislature when she first voted for the state lottery and then got permission to change her vote into one of opposition, she has become a more sure-footed lawmaker. Last year, for example, she led the charge to make coal ash ponds in this state subject to the dam safety act after a TVA dam burst in Tennessee and spread toxic sludge across the landscape.

Last week, she successfully engineered an amendment during debate on the House version of the 2010-11 state budget to exclude state funding for a feasibility study for a $3 billion international port near Southport on the lower Cape Fear River. When first proposed the project was to have been a public-private partnership with the N.C. Ports Authority. But so far a private partner has not be found to share the costs. Harrison called the proposal a "Global TransPark on steroids," a reference to an air cargo facility that would enable just-in-time manufacturing near Kinston that has yet to fulfill its promise.

Now Harrison is leading an effort to get the state of North Carolina to withdraw its investment in Massey Energy, the coal company with a poor safety record that ran the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. An explosion there earlier this year killed 29 miners. She and fellow House members Paul Luebke, D-Durham, Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe and Earl Jones, D-Guilford, are sponsoring a bill to require state retirement funds to divest their shares in Massey Energy. The state owns about 385,000 shares of Massey, valued at about $12 million, Harrison says.

Massey Energy Company is a rogue corporation that puts company profits before the safety of miners," Harrison said in a statement Monday. "North Carolina has no business investing state funds in a corporation that routinely places its workers at risk and has absolutely no regard for environmental protection."

Harrison has also pushed for other legislation, including phasing out the use of coal in N.C. power plants obtained from mountaintop removal mining. She played a key role in setting up the N.C. Innocence Commission, and has pushed hard to strip from the state budget a feature that allows athletic scholarship programs to pay in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students on athletic scholarships. She doesn't win on every issue, but she's been a determined lawmaker who is making her mark in the House.

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