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Morning Memo: Hagan gets opponent; Records show deeper DHHS troubles

KAY HAGAN GETS A FEISTY CHALLENGER: All the attention is focused on the Republicans vying to replace Democrat Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate. But Hagan, too, will face a primary challenger. The Fayetteville Observer reports that Fred Westphal, a retired educator from outside Fayetteville, plans to make a bid. And he’s mighty sure of his chances. "She doesn’t have a chance against me," Westphal, 76, told The Fayetteville Observer. "She won’t get the party nomination."

INTERNAL EMAILS SHED MORE LIGHT ON DHHS TROUBLES: The state agency overseeing the new computer system that sends money to health professionals treating poor patients downplayed problems with the software even as complaints rolled in to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office from doctors, dentists and medical equipment companies.

Correspondence obtained by The News & Observer from McCrory’s office show that complaints were flowing in from frustrated health care providers, with some appealing directly to his chief of staff and his lawyer, by the end of July. Those complaints were passed on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the system. On Aug. 5, DHHS sent out the news release "NCTracks is on Track."

***Read more from the DHHS records and get a full political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Emerging from conference, bill restricts state's study of climate change

In a closed-door conference committee, Republican lawmakers appeared to add a provision to a bill that would prohibit any state agency from developing or implementing a plan to address climate change unless authorized by the legislature .

The new language appears in Senate Bill 10 -- a controversial measure that sweeps clean several key boards and commissions, wiping off Democratic appointees to make room for GOP favorites. The Senate rushed the bill through early in the session but the House balked and wrote its own version. The bill emerged from a secretive conference committee Wednesday and appears on the House calendar for action Thursday. It's not clear whether the House will consider the measure today.

Climate change figure Droz cries foul

John Droz, the Morehead City physicist who has helped shape state legislators’ view of the controversial issue of sea-level rise due to climate change, takes issue with criticism of a presentation he made to lawmakers and others last week.

The thrust of his presentation was that special-interest groups are manipulating science for their own agendas, and that public policy is suffering as a result. Liberal and environmental groups have mocked him for his position in opposition to the majority of scientists that global warming is real and the world’s use of carbon dioxide and methane play a big role in that. Droz says consensus doesn’t mean proof, and that the question remains unsettled.

Dome reported that the Institute for Southern Studies Facing South project’s criticized his presentation because of some of the source material, which included a number of fringe publications. Droz says it’s not fair to cherry-pick a handful of articles out of the hundreds of sources quoted in his presentation, just because someone might not agree with everything those publications print.

“If something is false or wrong, let’s hear what it was,” Droz said.

What's Skvarla think about global warming?

John Skvarla, the personable and accomplished new secretary of the state’s environmental-protection agency, has been dodging the question of just what he thinks about global warming. Perhaps the fact that he suggests it’s still an open question provides the answer.

But here’s a more definitive clue.

Sea-level rise adviser returns to General Assembly

Some state legislators are still fighting the global warming battle that they lost last year when they failed to stop the use of scientific data to predict how much the sea will rise along the coastline. That battle ended in a stalemate, with a four-year moratorium on the Coastal Resources Commission authorizing sea-level forecasts to be used as the basis for regulations, while the issue is studied.

Rep. George Cleveland, a five-term Republican from Jacksonville, invited fellow lawmakers to hear a presentation in the statehouse auditorium by John Droz on Wednesday. Several dozen legislators and others showed up to hear Droz, who was scientific adviser to the group of 20 counties that tried to tie sea-level rise predictions to historic trends rather than climate science that predicts a faster rise and a bigger impact on coastal development.

Droz, who lives in Morehead City, has degrees in physics, mathematics and solid state science. A fellow of the conservative American Traditions Institute (whose motto is “Restoring science, accountability and liberty to the environmental policy debate”), he is a frequent speaker promoting the idea that political interests have corrupted science to their own advantage.

Morning Memo: McCrory cabinet pick faces more questions, legislature returns

SKVARLA FACES NEW QUESTIONS: Secretary John Skvarla's memo to staff at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources this week is getting a good bit of attention and creating more questions than it answers. As reported here first, the agency's new mission statement includes this line: "environmental science is quite complex, comprised of many components, and most importantly, contains diversity of opinion." The memo also suggests the agency is more service organziation than state regulator. It raises big questions for the McCrory administration: Is climate change a scientific fact? What about sea level rise? And are human's responsible for global warming?

McCRORY DODGES GLOBAL WARMING QUESTION: As the DENR secretary questions the validity of science, the new Republican governor is sidestepping the global warming issue entirely. Pat McCrory told Travis Fain at the News & Record: "John (Skvarla) and I aren’t going to get caught up in the political semantics of either the left or the right on climate change or global warming. We believe in clean air, clean water and clean ground. ... As my father used to say ... we must walk the fine line between continuing our economic prosperity while also protecting the quality of life and the environment which brought may of us here. And that’s the fine line leadership must continue to walk.” Expect this question to re-emerge Wednesday.

House Republicans question global warming science, push moratorium

The House gave final approval to a bill prohibiting the state to use sea-level rise predictions for coastal planning purposes in a debate that strayed into whether climate change is a scientifically proven phenomenon.

"We are talking about science over and over here," said Rep. Frank Iler, a coastal Republican. "I would submit what we are calling science is not science."

The 68-46 vote followed Senate approval Monday. The bill now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue.

Legislators water down proposals on sea-level science

Since the House spurned a Senate proposal to put strict controls on the science of predicting how fast the seas will rise along North Carolina's coast, legislators have been working on a compromise. They are preparing next week to consider a gentler but more complicated approach toward the same goal: slow down that scary forecast.

The state Coastal Resources Commission would be required to wait four years, until July 2016, before it authorizes any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for coastal regulations, according to legislation worked out this week by a House-Senate conference committee.  Scientists would be required to consider a sweeping range of views -- including predictions that the sea level will fall -- as they develop new forecasts.

Morning Roundup: N.C. school choice debate enters the courtroom

A virtual charter school with the potential to siphon millions of dollars from traditional public schools will pit school-choice advocates against the state’s education establishment at a Monday court hearing.

A Wake County Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments on whether an online charter school program that would be run by a for-profit company should be allowed to open in North Carolina in August, as a state administrative law judge ruled in May. The state Board of Education hopes to persuade the Superior Court judge that proper procedures were not followed for a new program that represents one of the more overt commercial aspects of the school-choice movement. Full story here.

Other political headlines below.

Morning Roundup: N.C. GOP lawmakers reject global warming science

Rejecting a science panel’s warning that the North Carolina coast should prepare for an increasingly rapid rise in sea level later in this century, a Senate committee on Thursday endorsed far-reaching rules that would force planning and regulatory agencies to base sea-level forecasts only on the slower rates recorded in the past.

“If you’re going to use science when you really can’t validate it, … you’re going to be implementing policy and rules and regulations that can have a very, very negative impact on the coastal economy of this state,” said Sen. David Rouzer, a Benson Republican who championed the legislation and is running for Congress. Read more here on the bill being ridiculed worldwide.

More political news below.

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