CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina Coastal Federation and Clean Air Carolina have petitioned the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission seeking state action addressing climate change by joining other states in a cooperative effort to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the two nonprofits, filed the petition for rulemaking Monday. The groups called for the adoption of a rule to limit carbon dioxide pollution from the electric power sector in North Carolina.
“With climate change already harming North Carolina, and science telling us we are running out of time to reduce our heat-trapping gas emissions, now is the time to take action,” said Gudrun Thompson, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Whether we act now or delay determines our future as well as the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. This petition outlines a cost-effective solution that is proven to work and ready to go to protect North Carolina’s economy, environment and people.”
Charlotte-based Clean Air Carolina advocates for solutions to climate change and air pollution. The Coastal Federation, which publishes Coastal Review Online, is based in the unincorporated Ocean community in Carteret County and is focused on protecting and restoring the North Carolina coast.
The groups said action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is urgently needed as North Carolinians increasingly feel the impacts of climate change from flooding, slower storms that drop more rain, rising sea levels and warmer and more humid days and nights. They noted scientists’ warnings of more dire consequences for North Carolina’s economy, environment and public health if action is not taken or is delayed.
“A hotter climate causes more extreme weather and higher seas that drown our coast in major floods that occur all too routinely,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the Coastal Federation. “Recovery from these disasters cost taxpayers billions of dollars almost every year. The commission needs to act with urgency to exercise its responsibility to protect and restore our coast from climate turmoil.”
The petition calls for establishing a regional emissions-trading program and participating in the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative implemented by states from New England south through Virginia.
The commission has 120 days to initiate rulemaking or deny the petition.
“Climate change is a health disaster for North Carolina, and one that will only get worse the longer we wait to act,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “It’s time we use proven, cost-effective strategies and coordinate with other states to efficiently reduce climate emissions across the eastern U.S., protecting the health of our communities and the environment.”
In the proposed emissions-trading program, power plants must buy an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution they produce. Allowances can be bought and sold in a regional auction, which the groups say will help keep costs down. The number of available allowances is reduced over time to reduce pollution.
States already participating in initiative saw carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector drop 47% over the last decade as well as fewer premature deaths, hospital visits and lost work or school days associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, strokes and heart attacks, according to the groups.
A similar approach was used decades ago to successfully reduce aci rain, which was harming and killing fish, wildlife and forests. “That issue is now largely in the past thanks to a cap-and-trade program for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, the primary causes of acid rain,” the groups said.
Participation in the regional program would also be consistent with Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order No. 80 and the Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Energy Plan, which sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 70% by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050.