Under the Dome

Bill would stop DENR from planning for new carbon emission regulations

North Carolina would avoid implementing upcoming federal clean-air regulations until all legal challenges have been resolved, under a bill approved by a state Senate committee on Wednesday. But the state would risk losing control over tailoring the regulations to this state, .

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is likely to finish writing its new regulations on carbon emissions from power plants in August, and expects states to develop plans to carry them out. States that don’t act within one year of the regulations being finalized will have their plans written by the federal government.

Some states have begun that process with meetings of stakeholders, which is what House Bill 571 originally required. It was passed by the state House in April. The bill was revised Wednesday to halt those plans until current and anticipated lawsuits are resolved, or until July 2016, whichever comes later.

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Donald van der Vaart told the committee it was important to prepare a limited plan to stave off the EPA from doing it. However, he opposes the need for a clean power plan in North Carolina because the state has already exceeded the federal goal of reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The state environmental agency secretary has testified before Congress on the issue, helping push a resolution through the U.S. House of Representatives that would halt the requirement for a plan at the federal level. It has not been voted on in the U.S. Senate. Van der Vaart said halting the planning process in North Carolina would hamper the state’s ability to challenge the EPA regulations once they’re finalized.

The Sierra Club opposes the bill and favors proceeding with stakeholder meetings to avert federal involvement. The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity supports the bill, saying it would allow the state to stand its ground against an over-reaching federal mandate that the organization hopes will be overturned in court.

Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Greensboro shepherding the bill, said legislative staff would consult with attorneys before it comes to the full Senate to try to address van der Vaart’s concerns.

The issue is one of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation, challenging the authority of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions or establish protocols for electric utilities. The free-market ALEC, which connects lawmakers with business interests in closed-door sessions, began its annual meeting Wednesday in San Diego. Several members of the General Assembly are attending.

ALEC’s energy subcommittee was scheduled to talk about the EPA issue on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, 57 elected officials from across the state sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory urging him to start the stakeholder process.