NC agency hears opposition to carbon emissions plan

Doctors, professors, lawyers, students and scores of other residents on Thursday blasted what they say is North Carolina’s meager strategy to do the minimum to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s power plants.

A hearing officer of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission listened as the audience applauded speaker after speaker who used the allotted 3 minutes to warn of impending environmental disaster from climate change. About 140 people packed the hearing room, and 48 spoke until 9 p.m.

The sole commissioner heard three hours of public remarks as part of the EMC’s review to determine how the state should respond to the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

“Is what we’re looking at some cynical, feckless, ideological conservative agenda?” said speaker Robert Bruck. “It’s not impossible, it’s not a fraud, it’s not a hoax. The time to cut these emissions is now.”

Another speaker, NC State University student Morgan Malone, said capitalism is incapable of addressing ecological concerns such as global warming, “At current projections, our system is headed for an environmental and social collapse.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has urged North Carolina to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an ambitious 7 million tons a year, which would require shutting down coal-burning power plants and building new solar farms.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality is proposing a counterplan that would spare all power plants by cutting CO2 by only about 1/35 of the EPA’s requested amount.

Commission members, who are expected to adopt DEQ’s approach, have acknowledged the state’s strategy is not likely to meet federal approval and will eventually come to a showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court.

North Carolina is one of two dozen states resisting the Clean Power Plan as a misguided policy that goes far beyond the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and would also raise household utility bills by an estimated $434 a year here, according to an industry analysis.

The standing-room-only hearing in Raleigh was comparable to the public turnout in Charlotte a night earlier. Thursday’s public comments will be followed by a final public hearing planned Jan. 5 in Wilmington. Separately, state officials have received more than 5,000 written comments to date and will continue accepting public emails until Jan. 15.

DEQ is recommending that North Carolina’s electric utilities shave off carbon dioxide emissions by installing intelligent soot blowers, draft fans and other equipment that will improve efficiency and performance at 10 Duke Energy power plants.

Speaker Therese Vick, an organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, described the state’s plan as “nothing more than a middle finger salute that is intended to fail.”

“Put this ill-intentioned plan in the shredder and start again,” Vick said.

At the end of the hearing, five speakers dismissed climate change as a hoax and renewable energy as illusory, eliciting murmurs of disapproval from the audience.

The EMC is keen to move along the DEQ proposal through the next of several stages of review. It also has to be approved by the N.C. Rules Review Commission and reviewed by the state legislature before it’s submitted to the EPA this fall.

North Carolina has the nation’s most efficient coal-burning plants. The state’s electric utilities have spent $3 billion to comply with North Carolina’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Acts, and more recently they also have spent $3 billion shutting down aging coal plants and replacing them with state-of-the-art plants that burn natural gas.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski