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Locals Call for More Rigorous Requirements at Public Hearing for North Carolina's Clean Power Plan

Isabelle Shepherd, WHQR
Speakers address representatives of the Division of Air Quality and the Environmental Management Commission.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has created a draft proposal to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.  However, the EPA will likely reject the state’s strategy, since it addresses only a third of the overall requirements for carbon dioxide reductions.  At a recent public hearing in Wilmington, WHQR’s Isabelle Shepherd reports over one hundred people came out to call for a more thorough proposal. 

Twenty-nine speakers presented their views to representatives of the Division of Air Quality and the Environmental Management Commission.  Every one of them voiced discontent with North Carolina’s current plan, saying it does not go far enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Roger Shew, a local geologist, said a more comprehensive proposal would create a win-win for business and the environment:

The Clean Power Plan has the potential to both protect our natural resources and promote the even faster deployment and job creation that is possible in the cleaner energy sector. Let me just give one stat: The American Coalition for Clean Coal Technology stated there were 8,000 direct jobs and indirect jobs in North Carolina related to coal. There was an increase of 12% to 25,700 jobs in the clean energy sector in North Carolina with revenue of 6.6 billion dollars in 2014.”

The speakers also noted the effects of air quality on public health, and some spoke about climate change and the dangers of extreme weather patterns, especially along the coast. Here’s Priss Endo of the Cape Fear Group of the Sierra Club:

“Living so close to the coast gives one a heightened awareness of climate change. We know that building houses on stilts, sand mining, sand bagging, and construction of terminal groins are only stop-gap measures. We’re also in a unique position to appreciate solar and wind power and bemoan the withdrawal of support by the Governor and the Department of Environmental Quality.”

Currently, the state’s primary plan only addresses one of three elements of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  Sheila Holman, Director of the Division of Air Quality, said this exclusion is because building blocks 2 and 3 exceed legal authority under the Clean Air Act:

“We believe that we can require the power plants to undertake heat rate improvements.  We do not think we have the current statutory authority to tell the electricity providers that, ‘Well, you should produce your electricity from the cleanest fuel.  You should switch from coal to natural gas.’  That’s not really provided in the statutes currently.  That’s the issue with building block two, which requires a redispatch of coal units to natural gas units.”

Holman said building block 3 creates a similar concern because it requires utilities to use renewable energy to create electricity instead of coal:

“The utilities have a very specific mandate to provide the most cost-effective, safest, reliable electricity to the citizens of North Carolina.  It’s very clear in that part of the statute, and so we don’t believe that there’s the authority yet to say, ‘Well, there also has to be this environmental dispatch.’”

Many criticized North Carolina’s decision to join a coalition of two dozen states that have filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  Speakers called it a waste of time and tax payer dollars.  Here’s New Hanover County resident David Pollock:

“North Carolina’s plan is a risky approach. The irony of the DEQ approach is it could leave the state with less control of its carbon reduction program if the EPA successfully defends the challenge.”

But Director Holman said a back-up plan is in the works, so that the state has something to fall back on should their primary plan be overruled:

“We will be coming back with, to develop what we’re calling the back-up plan. That work will begin in March of 2016. We obviously heard a lot of good ideas tonight about the role of renewables, the role of biomass, solar, et cetera so I think that a lot of what we heard tonight will help with the crafting of the complete plan.”

The comment period for North Carolina’s primary plan for Clean Power Plan compliance is open until this Friday. Comments can either be sent by email to daq.publiccomments@ncdenr.gov with 111(d) in the subject line or mailed to Joelle Burleson, Division of Air Quality, 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641.