For 2 months, McCrory’s been hit with headline after headline decrying his job-killing HB2 law and connecting the governor to Duke Energy’s health-threatening coal ash spill. McCrory’s awful news cycle won’t end until his governorship does.
Read the latest:
American Airlines, a major employer in Charlotte, is on “high alert” that state lawmakers will target tax breaks on jet fuel in response to the company’s opposition to House Bill 2, the state’s new law on public accommodations and employment practices.
The House passed its budget on second reading Wednesday, and there will be a third vote Thursday. The House did not discuss repealing the fuel exemption Wednesday, said State Rep. Scott Stone, a Charlotte Republican. It’s possible the Senate could still act, he said.
American is a major employer in Charlotte, which is its second-busiest hub behind Dallas/Fort Worth. The company operates about 650 flights a day from Charlotte Douglas International Airport – more than 90 percent of the airport’s total – and employs 11,000 people based at the city. Statewide, American employs 14,000.
The company took an early stand against HB2, which among other measures limits legal protections for LGBT individuals. The law was passed in response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have expanded anti-discrimination protections and allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
American lobbied heavily last year to preserve and extend a state law that capped a company’s jet fuel taxes at $2.5 million a year. That cap had been set to expire this year, which would have cost American Airlines millions of dollars in additional taxes.
Lawmakers went a step further, exempting jet fuel from sales tax entirely. American said the break was key for maintaining its ability to be profitable in Charlotte, a low-cost hub for the airline, while critics pointed to the airline industry’s string of record-beating profits as fuel prices plummeted last year.
In mid-March, the company announced it would build a new manufacturing and research facility in Durham County. Then, Sheldon says, a funny thing happened.
“A week after we announced that we were going spend nearly $20 million and create 52 jobs in North Carolina, HB 2 was passed. Rather suddenly.”
Indeed, House Bill 2 was proposed, debated, approved, and signed into law in just 12 hours.
“And after the passage of this, what we consider quite unjust law,” Sheldon says, adding “We decided to rethink the situation.”
The new facility was put on hold. Then, on Tuesday, Braeburn announced it will continue with plans for the facility.
Indeed, Braeburn’s press release cites poll numbers, but McCrory’s campaign doesn’t say what those number are. And there’s a reason for that.
Braeburn’s refers to a poll which shows “minimal support for HB 2 among North Carolina voters.”
So was Braeburn serious about ditching North Carolina? “We were serious,” says Sheldon, “We looked at other opportunities. We were willing to lose money in the process.” In fact, she says, “honestly if we had known about HB 2 in advance we would not have signed the lease.”
The CEO did meet with Attorney General Roy Cooper, but that meeting went very differently than how it’s being portrayed by the McCrory campaign.
“Roy Cooper absolutely pushed us to stay and fight from within,” Sheldon says.
“I would say the single thing that made a difference was that the Department of Justice suit,” Sheldon says. “That’s what made the difference because we think the law will not stand.”
Sheldon adds the company did not want to penalize Durham County, where the county commission unanimously passed a resolution condemning House Bill 2.
The McCrory administration turned its back on a cancer-risk threshold that had been approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the state’s effort to screen well water near Duke Energy coal ash basins for contaminants, according to a deposition by State Epidemiologist Megan Davies released last week.
The threshold underpinned the do-not-drink letters that were issued in 2015 — and rescinded a year later — by state health officials to well owners.
State scientists such as Kenneth Rudo, Mina Shehee and Sandy Mort helped calculate a level of 0.07 parts per billion to screen for hexavalent chromium, one of the more potent contaminants associated with coal ash because of its link to stomach cancer.
DHHS sent the first wave of do-not-drink letters in the spring of 2015. A few months later, in June, Duke Energy successfully requested a meeting with state health and environmental officials to discuss the warning letters and the health screening level of 0.07, according to the testimony.
At the meeting were several Duke Energy lawyers.
Also there: Harry Sideris, the senior vice president of environmental, health and safety at Duke Energy, and Mark McIntire, the director of environmental policy and affairs at Duke Energy. DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, who was appointed by McCrory in January 2015, was there. So was Tom Reeder, the assistant secretary for the environment.
In March, DHHS sent another wave of letters saying it is OK to drink the water in part because it falls within a federal standard that would allow a concentration of hexavalent chromium of up to 100 parts per billion.
That’s the one with the cancer risk of 1 in 700.