RGGI Vote Sets North Carolina on a Path to Clean Energy Future

by Joel Porter

The state of North Carolina has taken a monumental step in the fight against climate change. On July 13, the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC) voted to approve our petition for North Carolina to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI – pronounced ‘Reggie’). This is a huge win that will improve the health of our communities and the environment, and will finally set North Carolina on a cleaner, more sustainable path forward.

By joining RGGI, North Carolina would set a declining budget for carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in the state and enter into a cooperative emissions allowance auction program with other states along the east coast. This would enable us to coordinate with our neighboring states to bring down carbon pollution across our region through a proven, cost-effective approach. CleanAIRE NC and our partners at the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) submitted the petition for rulemaking earlier this year.

With the EMC’s vote, the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is now tasked with the development of a rulemaking process that would put a cap on carbon emissions from electric generation sources and ultimately require those emitters to pay for their pollution.

This is no insignificant thing. Being party to this process cements our organization’s commitment to ushering in a cleaner climate in North Carolina.

One of the primary issues brought up during the meeting was a question of process: does the EMC have the authority to approve this rulemaking without involving the state’s General Assembly? The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes.’ This question is addressed in the petition itself, and we are confident that this petition is well within the scope and authority of the EMC’s authority.

Extensive stakeholder sessions convened by the State gave stakeholders a clear understanding of the potential benefits of various policy options. We chose to support this petition for joining RGGI because it allows for the state to consider a policy that is market-based and flexible (and fuel-neutral), it is pro-economic growth, and it allows for proper debate while removing unnecessary posturing from the equation.

Thanks to existing market forces and various state and federal policies, coal use has declined over the past ten years. By joining RGGI the state will further speed the transition to a cleaner North Carolina. RGGI is effective precisely because it is a market-based mechanism. By pricing in the externalities of carbon pollution, it accelerates the transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources. And we don’t just need to get away from coal eventually; we need to do it fast.

To that end, RGGI pairs very well with other climate and clean-energy policies (should other governing bodies decide to implement them). As those other solutions are deliberated, CleanAIRE NC will be focused on this rulemaking. Regardless of the outcome of other efforts, we will work to ensure North Carolina does its part to mitigate greenhouse gasses.

We know that there is more we can do to listen, learn, and work together to make sure that climate change solutions such as RGGI are equitable and the transition to a clean energy future is just. We look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue to fine-tune solutions that can prevent dangerous levels of warming and create an economy that is more inclusive and sustainable for our people and planet.

DEQ is now working on a “fiscal note” describing the economic impacts the rule would have, and an EJ analysis. Following the issuance of their draft rule, there will be another opportunity for public comment, another vote at the EMC, and surely countless efforts by opponents of RGGI to derail the petition.

The fight’s not over yet. But we’re getting closer to a solution that will result in cleaner air and better health. And we know we can rely on the support of our members, friends, and allies to get this important measure across the finish line and start building the clean energy economy North Carolina needs.

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