Letters to the Editor

Christopher Frey and Joseph DeCarolis: Taking on Clean Power Plan claims

In his Aug. 15 Point of View article, N.C. DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart critiqued the U.S. EPA’S Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030. We were disappointed that his piece, presumably intended to inform the public on a complex policy issue, contained inaccurate characterizations. Our purpose is not to advocate the plan but to share accurate information.

The secretary claims that the Clean Power Plan is an “act of overreach.” Yet the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, “extended legal battles against the Clean Power Plan are inevitable,” but many new federal environmental regulations are litigated by special interests. By acknowledging that EPA actions are subject to judicial review, the secretary contradicts his own claim that the EPA is an “unaccountable bureaucracy.”

The claim that the Clean Power Plan is “one-size-fits-all” is false. Under the plan, each state has a separate target – based on its existing electricity mix – and can choose among a set of flexible compliance options.

The claimed “takeover of North Carolina’s energy-generation system” is also false. A performance target set by the federal government scarcely constitutes a “takeover.” North Carolina’s job-creating renewable portfolio standard, which predates the current governor and legislature, has increased the state share of solar power. The state could take further actions to achieve Clean Power Plan targets, such as strengthening, rather than weakening, its renewable portfolio standard.

The secretary claims that North Carolina has “one of the nation’s cleanest and most efficient power plant fleets.” The data suggest otherwise. There are 23 states with lower baseline CO2 emission rates, and there are 24 states with lower 2030 target rates. The secretary claims that “EPA’s directives” are “grossly unfair.” Again, the data suggest otherwise. North Carolina’s percentage reduction target is less stringent than that of 29 other states, including neighboring South Carolina and Tennessee. Virginia, with lower baseline emissions, is required to achieve the same percentage reduction as North Carolina.

The secretary gives the misleading impression that the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and the states of New York and Massachusetts oppose the Clean Power Plan. However, all are strong advocates of the plan.

The secretary cites a cost analysis that estimates increases in utility bills but did not disclose that the analysis was paid for by Peabody Energy, the “world’s largest private-sector coal company.” Other analyses not cited by the secretary, such as one by Georgia Tech, estimate decreases in consumer electricity bills.

It is important to acknowledge the damage that comes with inaction on climate. Nationally, EPA estimates 2030 public health and climate benefits of $34 billion to $54 billion versus implementation cost of $8.4 billion. The bottom line is that the benefits far outweigh costs and the effect on consumers is likely to be small.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Clean Power Plan, it would be refreshing to have a discussion based on facts and rational inferences.

H. Christopher Frey

Distinguished University Professor of environmental engineering

Joseph DeCarolis

Associate professor of environmental engineering

N.C. State University, Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.