State environmental officials on Wednesday took the first steps to approve North Carolina’s controversial strategy for reducing greenhouse gases, an approach designed to reject a menu of solutions set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A N.C. Environmental Management Commission panel recommended that the full environmental commission accept the limited approach set out by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The full EMC is scheduled to meet Thursday to vote on the recommendation by its Air Quality Committee.
The DEQ is proposing that North Carolina’s electric utilities install equipment to improve power plant performance, but the state agency is not adopting broader EPA solutions it predicts will ultimately be declared illegal by federal courts.
Deputy environmental secretary John Evans told the committee Wednesday that DEQ is on a tight schedule to meet EPA’s deadlines. If approved by the full committee Thursday, the clean power plan would go to public hearings in December and January, to the N.C. Rules Review Commission in March, and to the state legislature in the spring, before it’s submitted to the EPA.
Evans also said his agency will come up with a backup plan next year, adopting more expensive anti-pollution strategies recommended by the EPA, in case the state’s narrow approach is rejected by the courts.
“It’s prudent to have a backup plan, but only if it’s needed,” Evans said. “We’re going to try our best to keep energy prices as affordable as we can.”
Environmental advocates say DEQ’s narrow approach is almost sure to be rejected by the EPA, because it will barely chip away at the state’s carbon dioxide emissions, and will set up a court fight between state and federal environmental regulators. North Carolina is among two dozen states that are opposing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as too burdensome and too costly.
DEQ is opting not to adopt EPA-sanctioned measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions: replacing aging coal-burning power plants with natural gas, and offsetting power plants with renewables and energy efficiency programs.
Instead, the DEQ wants the state’s power companies to install more efficient equipment. That move would reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by a mere 200,000 tons a year, not close to reducing the state’s 58 million tons of carbon emitted a year from power plants to the 51 million as the EPA wants to see by 2030.
DEQ’s plan would not impose additional costs on Duke Energy because the increased operating efficiencies would result in a net savings of $5.9 million from 2019 to 2030, Sushma Masemore of the agency’s Division of Air Quality told the EMC panel.
DEQ officials told the Environmental Management Commission that the state already has the most efficient coal burning plants in the country after spending about $3 billion to comply with the the state’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act.
Additionally, North Carolina’s utilities in recent years have spent $3 billion to shut down aging coal plants and build new natural gas plants. DEQ Secretary Donald Van der Vaart has said the state should get credit for these efforts under the EPA’s plan, but the EPA is not counting any reductions before 2012.