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May 8, 2021

Gary Pearce: Will NC get real on climate change?

By Gary Pearce

When I think about climate change, I think about my brother-in-law Tillman.

Tillman spent his career with Big Oil. He travelled the world finding places to drill, baby, drill. He’s now comfortably retired in Dallas, Texas. And he’s a Republican.

You may suspect he’s a climate-change denier.

Wrong.

Tillman has a Ph.D. in geology from UNC. He’s smart and studious. Some years back, he delved into a study of climate change.

Like most geologists, he concluded it’s real — so real he tells his eight grandchildren that the family’s vacation home on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may be gone when they’re his age. “Act now,” he writes, “to slow the change and preserve this wonderful place.”

The question is whether we — the world, the nation and North Carolina — will get real about fighting climate change.

In North Carolina, environmentalists want Gov. Roy Cooper to join Virginia and 10 other states to our north in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, like “Reggie”). The other states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Under RGGI, a power plant has to buy an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution it emits into the atmosphere. Allowances can be bought and sold in a regional auction, which helps to keep costs down.

The number of available allowances is reduced over time to reduce pollution.

The goal: reducing carbon emissions from power plants 70% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Advocates say RGGI is North Carolina’s least expensive and most efficient option — and the only action the governor can take without the legislature. They fear the legislature will let Duke Energy adopt a less ambitious carbon-reduction plan.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Clean Air Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation, has petitioned the state Environmental Management Commission to adopt rules so North Carolina can join RGGI: “The threat to North Carolina from global climate change is real, it is present, and it is getting worse…. Sea levels have risen and continue to rise. Extreme precipitation has become more common and will be even more common in the future. The intensity of hurricanes and the frequency of other severe storms will increase. Flooding will increase, but so too will droughts and wildfires. Each of these changes will hit our most vulnerable residents hardest. Unabated, climate change will exact substantial costs on our environment, our economy, and the lives of all North Carolinians.”

President Biden has set an ambitious national goal: an overall 50% reduction in emissions from power plants and transportation by 2030. Joining RGGI would jibe with Biden’s goal and allow North Carolina to do our part, environmentalists say.

The New York Times said Biden’s plan “would require rapid and sweeping changes to virtually every corner of the nation’s economy, transforming the way Americans drive to work, heat their homes and operate their factories.”

Polls show that Americans, especially young people, believe climate change is real and that real action is needed. Yet, there is a stubborn resistance, much like the resistance to masks and COVID vaccines.

Climate-change deniers rely on scare tactics, not science. They claimed Biden’s climate plan cuts “90% of red meat from our diets by 2030.”

No, it doesn’t.

Biden framed his plan not as cutbacks and restrictions, but as an economic engine. He said it would create “millions of good-paying, middle-class, union jobs” – building a resilient electrical grid, cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells and abandoned coal mines, building electric vehicles, installing charging stations and building clean-power plants.

And maybe saving the Outer Banks.

Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and public policy at www.NewDayforNC.com.    

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