Petition pushes North Carolina to cut power plants’ carbon pollution

State to tackle climate change through regional initiative

Staff attorney Nick Jimenez, North Carolina Office Director Derb Carter and Senior Attorney Gudrun Thompson as they head into the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission meeting to consider rulemaking aimed at cutting carbon pollution.  (© SELC)

With a yes vote today, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission approved our petition to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution from power plants in the state. We filed the rulemaking petition on behalf of Clean Air Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation. The petition’s approval launches the rulemaking process, with an evenutal public comment period, at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

“Today’s decision by the EMC is a common-sense step to reduce harmful carbon pollution from power plants in what a study by U.N.C. and Duke University shows is a cost-effective approach,” said Senior Attorney Gudrun Thompson. “Given the threat of climate change to our state, North Carolina needs to do its part to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution from power plants. Today’s action by the EMC will help move our state towards a clean energy future by pushing polluting coal generation off the power grid.”

North Carolinians are already feeling the impacts of climate change from slower storms that drop more rain and cause flooding, and warmer and more humid days and nights. Scientists warn of more dire consequences for North Carolina’s economy, environment and people—including to people’s health--without rapid, steep reductions in heat-trapping carbon pollution.

“It’s very early in hurricane season, and two tropical storms have already blown through our coast,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “While we keep a watchful eye on the tropics, it’s encouraging that state leaders want to find ways to reduce carbon pollution so that our oceans won’t get so warm and spawn as many intense storms.”

The Cooper administration set a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 70 percent by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The proposed rule filed with the commission would help to achieve those targets in a cost-effective way by setting a declining limit on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and setting North Carolina up to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced like Reggie), a cooperative effort among states from Maine to Virginia to cap and reduce power sector carbon pollution.

“This rulemaking is an opportunity for our state to lead the Southeast in carbon reduction which will result in cleaner air and better health", said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “For the past few years, North Carolina has lost ground as a clean energy leader. RGGI is an opportunity to put the right market mechanisms in place to properly value clean energy generation without arbitrary mandates.”

In RGGI’s first decade alone, participating states saw steep declines in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants: from 2008 to 2018, emissions fell by 47 percent, which was 90 percent more than in the rest of the country. Over the same period, the RGGI states also saw reduced air pollution and fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses; a 5.7 percent decline in electricity prices, compared to an increase in the rest of the country; and economic growth that outpaced the rest of the country by 31 percent.

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