1/18/2016: NCDEQ leads new wave of renewable energy attacks

The new year has barely started, and already the opponents of renewable energy development have kicked off their latest effort to undo the legal framework supporting our state’s clean energy boom. This week in CIB.

Executive Watch: Renewed Attack on Renewable Energy

Gov. Pat McCrory’s Secretary of Environmental Quality, Donald van der Vaart, last week put forward the latest attempt to gut North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS). (REPS is the law requiring electric utility Duke Energy to generate a minimum percentage of its power from renewable energy sources.)

Van der Vaart’s proposal was presented to the January meeting of the Renewable Energy and Long-term Planning Committee of the NC Energy Policy Council (EPC). (This advisory council makes recommendations to the governor and legislature. It is chaired by the NC Lieutenant Governor and operates under the purview of the Secretary of DEQ—in this case, van der Vaart himself—who is also a member.)

Given the role and structure of the EPC, such a proposal from the DEQ Secretary must be viewed as the first public step in an orchestrated process to bring an anti-REPS proposal to the legislature with the official blessing of the governor. In this latest version of the recurring attack on renewables, van der Vaart explained his proposal as an attempt to incentivize new nuclear construction (by allowing it to take the place of additional renewable energy in REPS). Observers projected that this will be the line van der Vaart repeats throughout his effort to get the EPC to endorse his proposal by the end of January. The full EPC meets on January 27.

Van der Vaart has become the most aggressive and high-visibility proponent within the McCrory Administration for reliance on fossil fuels and expanded nuclear power. As Governor McCrory’s most recent choice to head DEQ (and emphasize its role in energy development over that of environmental protection), van der Vaart is presumably speaking for the Governor’s own priorities.

More fossil fuels and nuclear; less solar; offshore drilling; and an aggressive attack on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan—the true energy priorities of this administration have been made clear at the start of 2016.

Judicial Watch: Groups Sue to Block Ag-Gag

Six consumer protection and animal welfare groups filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to block what has become known as the “ag-gag” law passed by the NC General Assembly last year.

The new law allows employers to sue workers who publicly reveal information, photographs, or other recordings from “nonpublic areas” of their workplace without the employer’s consent. Opponents charge that the law was intended to discourage and punish whistleblowers who expose illegal, dangerous, or cruel practices being carried on by a business. The highest public profile examples in recent years have been agricultural operations involving polluting activities or practices of alleged animal cruelty.

The challenging groups refer to the new law as the “Anti-Sunshine Law” and charge that it impinges on U.S. Constitutional rights of speech and the press. The full complaint can be reviewed in its entirety here.

Administrative Watch: Supporting Clean Power

NCLCV has signed on with multiple other concerned citizen conservation groups to call for a North Carolina plan designed to meet the requirements for state action under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan rule to control carbon emissions.

The joint letter, submitted prior to the close of the formal public comment period on January 15, calls for the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to begin by withdrawing its draft “designed to fail” plan. The groups called for DEQ to re-initiate a genuine stakeholder input process designed to produce a plan that would build on the state’s clean energy development progress to cut carbon emissions by the required percentage under the EPA rule.

In the language of the joint letter itself, “The Signatories therefore urge the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to withdraw the Draft Rule and reinitiate a rulemaking process that is based on a robust stakeholder process. With respect to the components of a state plan, we further urge DEQ to include mechanisms for increasing renewable energy production and energy efficiency, identify measures to update and enhance the utility grid to easily integrate renewable energy sources, petition for the state’s inclusion in the Clean Energy Incentives Program (CEIP), consider options for the creation of a trading-ready plan design to allow North Carolina businesses access to compliance instruments outside the state, and consider the benefits of a mass-based approach to enable market mechanisms to achieve emission reductions at the least cost.”

Twenty groups co-signed the letter, including NCLCV, NC Conservation Network, Environment NC, Environmental Defense Fund, NC Council of Churches, NC Coastal Federation, NC Environmental Justice Network, Clean Air Carolina, Clean Water NC, NC WARN, NC Interfaith Power & Light, and multiple other river watch, community, and citizen organizations. The Sierra Club sent a similar action call letter which also had multiple organizational co-signers.

Around the State: Who Killed Orange-Durham Light Rail?

Like an assassin in the night, someone slipped a killing blow into end-of-session, must-pass budget legislation in the dark last fall. The victim was a local voter-approved and -funded major green transportation project for Orange and Durham counties. The weapon? A new, undiscussed, and undisclosed special provision inserted into a long and complex budget bill in the literal dark of night.

Who was the killer, and how was the ghastly deed carried out? Last week’s Independent Weekly carries the disturbing details of this true crime story.

Read it and shudder…but don’t read it before bedtime. Anger will disturb your dreams.

That’s our report for this week.

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