Following a public comment process that culminated with a special meeting last Tuesday morning, the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) voted to approve a petition (PDF) that would add North Carolina to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This was the first step toward joining 12 other east coast states in this climate coalition.
RGGI states set a cap on power producers’ total regional carbon emissions, and establish a market for electric utilities to buy and sell carbon emission credits, using a market process to finance the most efficient and effective emission-reduction efforts. RGGI’s current member states include all of New England and the Mid-Atlantic from Maine to Virginia, with Pennsylvania in the process of joining.
The EMC vote was 9 to 3 in favor of starting the formal rulemaking process to implement North Carolina’s membership. EMC Chair Stan Meiburg called RGGI “an option that is available to the state to help achieve the goals that the governor set [for 70% carbon reduction by 2030].” Meiburg said he wants to “have the state make as much progress in carbon reductions that it practically can, as fast as possible.”
Groups supporting North Carolina joining RGGI told EMC that participating states saw power plant emissions fall 47% from 2008 to 2018, 90% more than in the rest of the country. Over that decade, member states also saw reduced air pollution and fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses; a 5.7% decline in electricity prices, compared to an increase in the rest of the country; and economic growth that outpaced the rest of the country by 31%.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represented petitioners Clean Air Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “This rulemaking is an opportunity for our state to lead the Southeast in carbon reduction which will result in cleaner air and better health,” said June Blotnick, Clean Air Carolina executive director. “For the past few years, North Carolina has lost ground as a clean energy leader. RGGI is an opportunity to put the right market mechanisms in place to properly value clean energy generation without arbitrary mandates.”
As the rulemaking process proceeds, we’ll be working with environmental justice groups to address their concerns, strengthen protections and investments in their communities, and make sure our state’s involvement benefits them.
The EMC’s strong vote in favor of RGGI did not come without pushback, however. Republican legislative leaders added a late attack on that process in an already horrible bill just two days later.