Roy Cooper’s puzzling stance on Clean Power Plan

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

In yet another act of overreach, the Environmental Protection Agency is again dictating the measures states should take to improve air quality, this time in the form of the Clean Power Plan. North Carolina has a much better record of success than the federal government in balancing the protection of our environment with the potential cost to taxpayers. Yet North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper puts his faith in a costly one-size-fits-all federal program mandated by an unaccountable bureaucracy.

In a puzzling move, Cooper is putting his support behind the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which is estimated to cost consumers and businesses $41 billion or more per year. According to Energy Ventures Analysis, the average North Carolina household’s electricity and gas bill would increase by $434 in 2020, a 22 percent hike over current rates. Cooper, in essence, supports the takeover of North Carolina’s energy-generation system.

We do not share Cooper’s belief that the federal EPA is the best guardian of North Carolina’s economic and environmental interests. We prefer to allow North Carolina to continue to build on its significant record of environmental protection.

Consider that under Gov. Pat McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina’s air quality is among the best in the Southeast. We have one of the nation’s cleanest and most efficient power plant fleets. Coal ash is being cleaned up after decades of neglect, and we have become a national leader in renewable energy.

North Carolina has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since 2005 without the Clean Power Plan, and it is on track to meet the president’s goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030 without intervention from the federal government. The Clean Power Plan would ignore those successes and the significant costs the state has already incurred. EPA’s directives for North Carolina are grossly unfair precisely because of our state’s accomplishments.

Some prominent state leaders from the attorney general’s own party recognize that a plan developed by North Carolina, for North Carolina, is in our best interest. Cooper is at odds with former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who wrote to the administrator of EPA about her concerns that North Carolina would be saddled with higher compliance burdens than our neighboring states, which have been less proactive in protecting their air quality. Hagan’s concerns are identical to those expressed by DENR. EPA is essentially asking North Carolina to make a Prius more efficient while our neighboring states are driving 1972 Cadillacs.

Cooper appears to be unaware of the leading environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice, along with the states of New York and Massachusetts, that agree with DENR’s legal theory.

These groups also challenged a previous EPA rule related to mercury emissions that was recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, the ruling came too late for public and private entities that had already spent billions of dollars to comply.

The attorney general would have North Carolina throw tax dollars at yet another EPA rule that could very well be overturned. Extended legal battles against the Clean Power Plan are inevitable. It would be wise for North Carolina to wait for a final judicial ruling before spending scarce public resources. In the meantime, DENR will continue to make further improvements to the air North Carolinians breathe.

Legislation proposed by the N.C. General Assembly – and opposed by Cooper – strikes a balance between submitting a state plan that meets the Clean Air Act’s requirements while simultaneously challenging the illegal Obama Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, our attorney general appears all too willing to subject North Carolina to a federal intrusion that will impose higher energy costs on our residents.

Donald R. van der Vaart is secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.