Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Guns, pocosins, & net-zero homes

Last week, Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who is running for the U.S. Senate, pulled out a revolver during his pre-election campaign rally and waved it above his head to refute a claim that he was “soft” on Second Amendment rights. Someone at the event complained that brandishing a gun at a public place violated Alabama law, but police said since it was a ticketed event on private property, that claim didn’t hold any water.

Moore, who has also publicly made racist and homophobic remarks and was effectively removed from the state Supreme Court twice, won the closely-watched Senate primary race. He was endorsed by President Donald Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his campaign more than $10 million.

Not a week after that, a man went to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas and shot hundreds of rounds down on a country music festival, killing at least 58 people and wounding more than 500 others. As they always do after mass shootings, the arguments over gun control began immediately, and lawmakers quickly released statements about who and what was actually to blame.

Since then, there has been a familiar, partisan responseAlabama Gov. Kay Ivey said that the state has the laws on the books it needs and that the shooter was just out of control. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin took to Twitter to express his opinion: “To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil,” he wrote. Democrats in Florida called for basic regulations like universal background checks, while Republicans offered prayersVirginia gubernatorial candidates offered condolences, and Republican Ed Gillespie, who has been endorsed by the NRA, said it was too soon to talk policy. Broadly speaking, the arguments against gun control ―  much like the arguments against public lands or universal healthcare or environmental laws ― are about individual civil liberties. The arguments for stricter gun control, much like those other topics, are usually about the greater good.

Despite all the talk from both sides, it is often unclear what specific regulations could be up for debate, and how that would play out at the state level. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which scores states based on their gun regulations, four Southern states ― Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina ― are among the top 10 with the worst gun death rates. Every state in the South was rated an F grade on its gun laws except for Virginia and North Carolina, which received a D and D-, respectively. According to the organization, ways to raise the grades include universal background checks, imposing waiting periods on firearm purchases, requiring gun dealers to obtain state licenses, and allowing local governments to impose gun laws. Here is a state-by-state breakdown of gun regulations.

Nearly 1,300 children are killed every year by guns. Those deaths are disproportionately in the South and Midwest. Research shows that states with more guns have more gun deaths, both by homicide and suicide. There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012, and many of those have been in the dense, populated South. To make a dent in those numbers will take more than revamping state gun control laws; it would mean confronting the National Rifle Association, which lobbies and contributes massive sums to political campaigns, and changing rules to stop extreme partisan gerrymandering, especially in Republican-controlled states with a lot of rural counties.

Some may say gun violence has nothing to do with this newsletter, or wonder how it intersects with ecology, justice and culture in the South. But the issues it concerns ― science, public health, politics, equality ― are all connected and seem to be coming to a head at once. With such a multitude of problems to solve and many paths to solving them, little progress is made. The majority of lawmakers in this region with the power to confront challenges refuse to do so, and in far too many cases, the federal government and state governments have shown they will choose industry over citizens.

However difficult they are to confront, the facts about everything from gun deaths to erosion to race relations remain true. They stand whether or not Moore is elected to the Senate, whether governors continue to bury their heads in the sand, or whether the EPA rescinds every Obama-era rule. But to move forward, the conversations about them have to take different forms, depending on the values of stakeholders and whether they are in Henderson, Louisiana, Pikeville, Kentucky, or Little Rock, Arkansas. Telling these complex stories ― finding out how we got here, what makes the South tick, and where it’s headed ― can help untangle the opposing ideologies, parties, and systems this region is built on.

Stories worth your time

U.S. Highway 1 has opened back up to Key West after Hurricane Irma, but the conditions in most places are still unlivable, the Tampa Bay Times reports. In Islamorada: “The frontage road south of U.S. 1 has become a graveyard. Hundreds of rusty refrigerators, washing machines and dryers line the road. It smells like decomposing remains mixed with rotten eggs, a marriage of old food and algae blooms.”

President Trump has nominated Kenneth Allen, a former coal executive, to be on the board of Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest utility. ThinkProgress says that Allen’s previous employer, Armstrong Coal, is a customer of TVA and he is still receiving payments from the company.

Pocosins, a type of wetland in North Carolina, have peat soils and serve as ecological sentries that regulate freshwater. Activists have worked hard to protect them, E&E News reports, but with President Trump’s administration trying to repeal and rewrite the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, farming and development could potentially take control.

Marketplace looks at how the city of Brunswick, Georgia ― where about 41 percent of people live below the federal poverty line ― is working to lower costs of electricity by building a local solar farm.

News flying under the radar

Tests of coastal waters in South Carolina after Irma found that 13 of 15 sites had a concentration of fecal bacteria higher than considered safe for swimming.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s pick for the Florida Public Service Commission is David Richard Workman, a former state legislator who blocked an effort to make it easier for businesses to install solar panels and has been called “anti-solar” by renewable energy advocates.

I wrote about the surge in interest for modular, net-zero energy homes as communities along the coasts look to rebuild after the hurricanes. For the market to really take off, net-zero homes have to become cheaper — particularly in low-income communities.

Dominion Energy is considering extending the Atlantic Coast Pipeline into South Carolina. An official told a group of people that “everybody knows” the pipeline will not end in North Carolina, despite its plans that say otherwise.