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11/30/2015: Out in front for clean air and energy

Conservationists call for supporting the Clean Power Plan in Washington and third-party solar sales in NC. This week in CIB.

Washington Watch: Citizens Back the Clean Power Plan

NC League of Conservation Voters and the national League of Conservation Voters have joined more than 100 other citizen environmental, public health, and other national and state-level groups in asking members of Congress to oppose attacks on the Clean Power Plan. (The Clean Power Plan is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] rule designed to combat climate change and reduce air pollution by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.)

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on two resolutions opposing the Clean Power Plan. The timing of the votes has been set in an effort to undercut the efforts of President Obama and other nations’ leaders to negotiate an effective plan to control climate change. The critical 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference begins today (November 30) in Paris.

The resolutions are expected to pass the Republican-controlled House, but the margin of passage will affect media and international impressions of the action. The lower the votes for the opposing resolutions, the stronger will be the hand of Obama and allies in negotiations. This is considered important in helping to persuade other key major carbon sources like India and China to agree to meaningful emissions restrictions.

LCV is currently sponsoring an ad campaign criticizing targeted U.S. Senators (including North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis) for opposing the Clean Power Plan.

At the same time, citizen conservation groups are encouraging key Congressional leaders like Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC1), current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, to urge colleagues to oppose the resolutions against the Clean Power Plan. The influential Rep. Butterfield could well sway the votes of undecided members of his caucus.

For a good source of other information on climate change negotiations, the Clean Power Plan, and related topics, see also here.

Administrative Watch: Citizens Support Third-Party Solar Sales

NCLCV is among at least 20 citizen conservation and clean energy groups, faith organizations, and other non-profit groups, in support of NC WARN’s petition to allow private parties to install solar generating systems for clients and sell the resulting electricity to those clients.

As CIB has previously described, NC WARN is a non-profit group which has installed a solar electric panels system for a small church in Greensboro. The church is paying the costs back over time by buying from NC WARN the electricity the system produces. NC WARN has petitioned the NC Utilities Commission for a determination that this kind of transaction does not make it a “public utility” regulated by the state.

The November 19, 2015 supportive letter signed by NCLCV and 17 other groups says, “All North Carolinians deserve equal access to clean energy sources, even if they do not have the means to finance a solar installation upfront. A ruling by the Commission clarifying that third-party sales are lawful would help accelerate a shift to a cleaner, cheaper, more equitable energy future for our state.”

Executive Watch: Wild and Wooly Whoppers

They just can’t seem to stop themselves. In an argumentative response to criticism of the McCrory Administration’s record and policy stands on energy and the environment, a senior administration staff member brought out the usual wild and wooly whoppers of her boss’s political patrons.

She could have simply stopped after laying out North Carolina’s currently still strong position as a state in the development of renewable energy. As she noted in an op-ed published last week, our state ranked second nationally in 2014 for solar capacity installed, has invested about $2 billion since 2010 in solar tax credits, and leads the Southeast in solar capacity. Stopping with those points would have left readers with the impression – false, as a matter of fact, but useful to McCrory – that his administration could take credit for that situation. (As the 2010 start date for her statistic suggests, the noted progress is attributable to policies implemented well before McCrory’s election and that have been curtailed since then, but never mind.)

Instead, Jenny Kelvington, McCrory’s Acting Executive Director for Energy, couldn’t stop there. She went on to repeat some of the same tired whoppers that the McCrory crew have relied upon to justify his headlong retreat from North Carolina’s previously strong environmental protection policies. Just as her immediate boss, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Donald van der Vaart, has done previously, Kelvington took a blunderbuss to key efforts by the U.S. EPA to protect clean air and water and public health.

The Clean Water Rule, Kelvington falsely claimed “would place land that has never before been regulated, including nearly all land east of I-95, under federal control.”

As former NC environmental department Deputy Secretary Robin Smith has said, “EPA has said (and this appears to be true) that the rule does not cover any waters that would not have been considered waters of the U.S. in the past. Instead, the rule has become more specific in defining jurisdictional waters, limiting the use of case by case determinations.” See the EPA’s response to the expansion of jurisdiction claim here.

The claim that “nearly all land east of I-95” would be placed “under federal control” belongs in the flamboyant political hyperbole of one of the more factually-challenged presidential candidates, not in an editorial from a self-proclaimed experienced regulator. There is simply no basis in fact for that allegation. Sadly, irresponsible debaters know that most of their audience will not hear the later fact-checkers’ calls for them to produce their non-existent maps in support of such claims.

Similarly, Kelvington claimed that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan “represents a takeover of the nation’s electricity generating system” that will “increase utility bills by 22% in North Carolina” with “little if any benefit to the environment.”

Federal “takeover” has become the rote responsive claim of opponents to any new regulation or program. No facts are required – just throw out the claim in passing. No one really expects you to explain how one changed rule suddenly becomes the “federal takeover” of an already heavily regulated public utility sector.

The assertion of no environmental benefit blithely ignores EPA’s exhaustive analysis laying out the benefits of the plan. Those benefits include avoiding thousands of premature deaths, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations annually.

Meanwhile, the 22% claim relates to the McCrory Administration’s own curiously self-defeating plan to use only the most inefficient and costly means to meet the EPA requirements. If they instead used the broad flexibility in the rule for state plans, and built on the tools which have already helped produce North Carolina’s solar energy boom, the result would be net savings to ratepayers, not costs.

Unfortunately, making environmental rules work for public health and the economy is no part of the McCrory plan going into a hotly contested re-election campaign. Instead, he has signaled that his political strategy will be to issue broad attacks against federal environmental watchdogs, citizen conservation groups, and our state’s historic safeguards for clean air and water.

Increasingly, McCrory is dragooning his top environmental regulators into the role of attack dogs in support of this political stance. That is an unsavory tactic in support of an irresponsible policy. It should stop.

Around the State: Around in Circles

The much-ballyhooed (and widely mocked) SolarBees have been spinning in circles in Jordan Lake for over a year now with no notable effect on water quality.

While the report detailing these findings is still being called “preliminary”, it says that the results “indicate that nutrient related water quality conditions did not significantly improve in areas of the lake where SolarBees were deployed.”

Representatives of the areas directly impacted by poor water quality in Jordan Lake wasted no time in reacting to the news. Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) called the SolarBee experiment “another waste of taxpayer money in a silly attempt to dodge reasonable rules.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) added, “The SolarBee project has been funded with millions of taxpayer dollars and has been substituted for the real solution, the Jordan Lake Rules, meant to address the introduction of nutrient pollution to the important drinking water supply, and now delayed several more years.”

So far as the evidence now coming in confirms, those taxpayer millions might have done as much good if invested in AppleBees.

That’s our report for this week.

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