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North Carolina editorial roundup

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:Aug. 3The News & Record of Greensboro on Caterpillar's decision to locate its new plant in North Carolina:Caterpillar manufactures products and components in more than 100 locations in two dozen countries.What's special about one more?For...

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Aug. 3

The News & Record of Greensboro on Caterpillar's decision to locate its new plant in North Carolina:

Caterpillar manufactures products and components in more than 100 locations in two dozen countries.

What's special about one more?

For Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, the Triad and North Carolina - a lot.

The $426 million plant announced recently will employ about 400 workers not far from the Guilford County line, providing badly needed jobs at an average annual salary of more than $40,000, plus benefits. Additionally, the Caterpillar decision identifies this area as a promising place to do business. Finally, it introduces one of the world's leading corporate citizens to the Triad.

Some of this has been heard before. Caterpillar will build near the Dell computer-assembly plant that never met employment expectations and is in a long shutting-down process. The global economic downturn, plus changes in consumer demand, spoiled hopes for the Dell operation.

Caterpillar's outlook is encouraging, however. It recently reported second-quarter profits of $707 million, a 91 percent increase year-over-year, and it has bumped up its 2010 sales and profits outlook. It already employs about 1,000 people at other North Carolina locations, and Gov. Bev Perdue said she hopes to make another announcement about Caterpillar soon.

The company is progressive in many ways. It maintains a charitable foundation and states, "Being a global industry leader also means that we must also be a leader in communities we are based in." It puts an emphasis on sustainable development, and for the past four years has been rated among the "World's Most Ethical Companies" in industrial manufacturing by the Ethisphere Institute in New York.

Choosing Winston-Salem, however, was a business decision. State and local incentives could reach $75 million - driven by competition from Spartanburg, S.C., and Montgomery, Ala. Proximity to several interstate highways and the FedEx hub at PTI Airport gives the Triad an advantage in transportation and logistics.

Forsyth Technical Community College also played a major role in the deal with its ability to train workers for Caterpillar jobs. Favorable labor conditions - moderate wages and a low rate of unionization - might have appealed to the company, but getting job-specific training for workers is a big bonus. ...



July 30

The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C., on Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina's surplus funds:

... The last few years have provided plenty of opportunities for whiplash as our anger lurches from one end of the spectrum to the other - and now we have another fine example of damned-if-you-do-sued-if-you-don't outrage: the question of the surplus funds that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina keeps in reserve.

The non-profit Consumers Union, a respected watchdog agency that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, put out a study questioning why 10 Blue Cross affiliates continue to raise premiums while they have fat reserves.

The study, which is online at, raises good questions - but we dispute its implications.

First, the facts. As a non-profit, BCBSNC does not have shareholders and it does not, strictly speaking, turn any profit - but it does stockpile cash surpluses in its reserve fund.

These surpluses are sometimes the result of a period of low claims, which lets North Carolina's insurance giant stash premium payments into savings against hard times.

The surplus is also built when insurers stitch some cushion into their premiums, and this is where Consumers Union has a real problem: BCBSNC has $1.4 billion in its reserve fund.

That is 911 percent more than the national standard suggested to cover risks. That figure - the RBC rating - is calculated by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, based on an insurance company's exposure to risk.

But is the RBC rating adequate? And is BCBSNC saving for a rainy day or hoarding money it could use to reduce premiums? ...

On the whole, we agree with Consumers Union's position that states should consider a maximum for reserve funds - but BCBSNC is not abusing its customers.

We do, however, agree that North Carolina needs to clarify the uses of reserves. ...

After all, we're inches away from reforms that require the insurance company to accept high-risk patients and those with pre-existing conditions - and that could cost something.



July 29

Asheville Citizen-Times on Western North Carolina air quality ruling:

On July 26, a federal appeals court reversed a 2009 ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Lacy H. Thornburg, of Asheville, that called on the Tennessee Valley Authority to speed up pollution-control improvements at coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. Thornburg had issued the ruling on the grounds the plants are a "public nuisance" because of their harm on air quality (and the quality of life) in Western North Carolina.

In our view, the appeals court made the wrong call. ...

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Thornburg. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote, "If allowed to stand, the injunction would encourage courts to use vague public nuisance standards to scuttle the nation's carefully created system for accommodating the need for energy production and the need for clean air. The result would be a balkanization of clean air regulations and a confused patchwork of standards, to the detriment of industry and the environment alike."

The court seemed to focus on the rule book and not on the game, worrying about keeping the existing regulatory framework intact and not about the health of the people and mountains of Western North Carolina. ...

Cooper's options at the time seem limited. North Carolina can seek a rehearing before the full appellate court or appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the high court's track record of siding with powerful interests, the appellate court option seems to be the way to go.

Clearly, Cooper isn't going to give up, saying, "This ruling is disappointing, but the fight for clean air is far from over."

We're behind him in that fight.