North Carolina to Consider Climate Change Solution as Communities Feel Impacts

Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center

January 12, 2021

Kathleen Sullivan
Sothern Environmental Law Center
[email protected]


Petition Filed with N.C. Commission Outlines Proven Action to Reduce Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—On behalf of Clean Air Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation, the Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a petition for rulemaking with the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission for the state to take action against harmful climate change by joining other states in a cooperative effort to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

“With climate change already harming North Carolina, and science telling us we are running out of time to reduce our heat-trapping gas emissions, now is the time to take action,” said Gudrun Thompson, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Whether we act now or delay determines our future as well as the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. This petition outlines a cost-effective solution that is proven to work and ready to go to protect North Carolina’s economy, environment, and people.”

Action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is urgently needed as North Carolinians increasingly feel the impacts of climate change from flooding, slower storms that drop more rain, rising sea levels that are harming coastal areas, and warmer and more humid days and nights. Scientists warn of more dire consequences for North Carolina’s economy, environment, and people—including to people’s health—if no action is taken or action is delayed.

“A hotter climate causes more extreme weather and higher seas that drown our coast in major floods that occur all too routinely,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “Recovery from these disasters cost taxpayers billions of dollars almost every year. The commission needs to act with urgency to exercise its responsibility to protect and restore our coast from climate turmoil.”

The petition filed with the commission outlines a comprehensive approach to limit and reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by participating in a regional emissions-trading program. The commission has 120 days to initiate rulemaking or deny the petition.

“Climate change is a health disaster for North Carolina, and one that will only get worse the longer we wait to act,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “It’s time we use proven, cost-effective strategies and coordinate with other states to efficiently reduce climate emissions across the eastern U.S., protecting the health of our communities and the environment.”

Under the proposal filed with the commission, the state would establish a carbon dioxide emissions-trading program and participate in the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) implemented by states from New England south through Virginia. In such a program, if a power plant emits carbon dioxide, it has to buy an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution it produces. 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.

States already participating in RGGI saw carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector drop by 47% over the last decade as well as fewer premature deaths, hospital visits, and lost work or school days, associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, strokes, and heart attacks. A similar approach was successfully used a few decades ago when acid rain plagued the United States, harming and killing fish, wildlife, and forests. That issue is now largely in the past thanks to a cap-and-trade program for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, the primary causes of acid rain.

Participation in the regional program is a cost-effective and proven policy option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions consistent with Governor Cooper’s Executive Order No. 80 and the Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Energy Plan, which sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 70% by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050.


For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

Clean Air Carolina is a statewide nonprofit organization advocating for the health of all North Carolinians by pursuing equitable and collaborative solutions that address climate change and air pollution. 

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