Swift Action Needed towards North Carolina Clean Energy Plan’s Goal

Chapel Hill, N.C.—The Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments on the draft Clean Energy Plan by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality as the public comment period closed. Once the agency considers public comments received, it will send the plan to an interagency council which will then submit the plan to the governor for his consideration.

“The draft clean energy plan release by DEQ lays out a good ‘menu of options’ and a strong goal, but the state must take swift actions to reduce carbon and other heat-trapping pollution in the face of the harm suffered by North Carolina residents and businesses from increasingly intense storms and flooding and predictions by scientists of even hotter and longer summers,” said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina offices at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Moving North Carolina away from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources is key to reducing problematic pollution. North Carolina is already a leader in solar and we can do our part along with other states and countries to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

The plan follows the devastating flooding of North Carolina communities from increasingly intense storms like Hurricanes Florence and Michael and destruction from Hurricane Dorian. Record heat threatens public health and worsens energy burdens, which are already a serious problem in North Carolina. Rainfall patterns are changing in ways that increase the likelihoods of both flooding and droughts, crop ranges are shifting, and saline infiltration literally salts the earth our farmers plow.

Key points in SELC’s comments submitted include:

•    The draft Clean Energy Plan is a strong start to addressing the threats facing North Carolina.  It includes bold but achievable heat-trapping gas reduction goals for the electric power generation sector.  We recommend DEQ commit to a clear goal of 70 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050.  The most straightforward path to that goal is a simple cap on carbon pollution.

•    The draft Clean Energy Plan rightly focuses on equitable access to clean energy and ensuring that our transition from relying on polluting fossil fuels to a clean-energy economy is just.    Energy-efficiency and clean-energy programs—such as weatherization and community solar—can help to lift the energy burden that climate change is worsening by including a focus on savings for low-wealth households.  Programs like an energy-efficiency apprenticeship and support for creating long-term jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits in clean energy work will help to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind in our transition to a clean energy economy.

•    The draft plan correctly leaves no place for forest-derived biomass or hog waste biogas in our state’s clean energy future.  Cutting and burning trees adds huge amounts of harmful carbon dioxide to the atmosphere immediately, undermining our emissions reduction goals.  Biomass production and combustion also create serious local air quality problems and destroy natural, intact forests that are necessary to protecting our coastal communities and absorbing carbon.  Hog waste biogas relies on the primitive lagoon-and-sprayfield system to manage industrial-scale animal feces and urine that continues to disproportionally devastate communities of color in eastern North Carolina, and pollute the air we breathe and the water we need.

•    Because time is of the essence, the draft Clean Energy Plan should recommend doing as much as possible as quickly as possible.  Wherever possible, the plan should recommend taking action rather than conducting further study.

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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