NC Takes Steps On Carbon Cap, Multi-State Pollution Effort

NC Takes Steps On Carbon Cap, Multi-State Pollution Effort

2:57pm Jul 13, 2021
(FILE) The Duke Energy Belews Creek plant. KERI BROWN/WFDD

A state regulatory panel agreed Tuesday to develop rules for North Carolina to meet proposed overall reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and to join a multi-state effort to accomplish it.

The Environmental Management Commission voted 9-3 to carry out a petition from several environmental groups seeking a cap that reduces CO2 emissions over time, resulting in a 70% reduction by energy producers by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.

The percentage matches Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's clean energy goals, which include producing zero-net CO2 emissions by 2050. The governor appoints a majority of commission members, with legislative leaders picking the rest.

The proposal sets the stage for North Carolina to join the 11-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as the state's chief method to meet what would become a mandatory 70% reduction.

The mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states in the initiative — stretching from Virginia to Maine — limit emissions from plants that generate energy using coal and other fossil fuels. The group places an annual mandatory cap on emissions. Power companies then purchase at auction the right to produce the pollution. States use auction proceeds in part toward other clean and renewable energy. The “cap-and-trade” program allows utilities to bank emissions credits if they reduce emissions more than is required, and to sell them to other entities.

The multi-state initiative "is an option that is available to the state to help achieve the goals that the governor set,” Commission Chairman Stan Meiburg said during the meeting. “I would like ... to have the state make as much progress in carbon reductions that it practically can, as fast as possible. And I’m open to just about anything that moves toward that goal.”

The top air-quality regulator in Cooper's Department of Environmental Quality backed the petition's concept when questioned during Tuesday's meeting.

EMC members who voted no said there were too many unanswered questions, including the monetary costs of entering into the framework for the state and for the utilities, which in turn would affect their customers.

Member J.D. Solomon also said General Assembly members already are working on wide-ranging legislation with Duke Energy and other groups to retire Duke's coal-fired power plants earlier than projected, resulting in significant carbon emission reductions. A House committee scheduled debate on the measure later Tuesday.

“This is probably a good tool but not a tool that we will need," to reach pollution reduction goals, Solomon said.

Tuesday's vote continues a long regulatory process toward the CO2 cap and entry into RGGI.

There will be public hearings, comment periods, and a fiscal analysis before finalized rules are presented again to a commission subcommittee and the full 15-member panel for votes. Then the Rules Review Commission would have to consider the changes. And the General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, would still have the opportunity to alter or reject the rules.

The environmental groups seeking the changes praised the commission's action, saying the effects of climate change are obvious and need a rapid response.

“North Carolina needs to do its part to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution from power plants,” said Gudrun Thompson, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. He said the vote "will help move our state towards a clean energy future by pushing polluting coal generation off the power grid.”

SELC said participating states in the compact have seen emissions fall more rapidly than the rest of the country, leading to less pollution-related illnesses and lower electricity prices.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental justice group, opposed Tuesday's decision because it said help for minority communities near pollution sources aren't being specifically addressed.

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