The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

North Carolina's climate change fight

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report urging immediate action to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius in an effort to avoid environmental harm.

This has some wondering what North Carolina's role is in combating climate change.

A 2010 report by the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s Science Panel on Coastal Hazards predicted sea levels could rise 39 inches by 2100 if North Carolina's temperatures continue to increase at the rate they are now.

Two years later, the N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 819, which banned using sea level rise rates and predictions when forming coastal policies.

The bill passed 68-46, with 63 Republicans and five Democrats voting in favor of the bill. NC-20, a nonprofit with a focus on coastal economic development, lobbied for the bill.

Lisa Sorg, an environmental reporter for NC Policy Watch, said these kinds of laws are consistent with the state legislature’s environmental policy track record. 

“Consistently, over the past maybe eight, nine years, the legislature under conservative control has cut funding to the Department of Environmental Quality, which has hampered its ability to enforce, to monitor, to basically do its full job of protecting human health and the environment, so there’s the funding aspect,” she said.

She noted the legislature has passed similar policies.

“There’s also been the general relaxing and rollback of regulations regarding everything from landfills, to how we measure sea level rise, to air quality,” she said.

Sorg said many of these rollbacks have the biggest impact in low-income communities or communities of color, where air pollutants tend to cluster and residents don’t always have the resources to lead legal battles or protests. 

Jim Warren, the executive director of NC WARN, said Republicans aren’t the only ones who have advocated for legislation that exacerbates climate change. He said the fossil fuel industry, for instance, has enormous influence with the Democratic Party, and these economic interests have interfered with the expansion of alternatives.

“It’s tragic because we are at a point where we need genuine leadership from wherever it may arise, and we’ve been calling on the corporate CEO and on the governor to get serious about these issues," Warren said.

He said the fossil fuel industry has essentially monopolized control over customers and policy makers.

Corporations are often able to mask their intentions and actions, Warren said.

“That’s how they get away with all of this stuff," he said. "They spend all this money to political contributions and targeted philanthropy to civic organizations and academic entities — and that’s how they stifle dissent.”

Sorg said campaign contributions might be able to influence policy decisions which exacerbate climate change, such as how there is a wind farm moratorium yet new natural gas pipelines are continuing to be built.

“That’s an example of how policies that have been put into law have not helped North Carolina combat its own contribution to climate change," she said.

Liz Delaney, director of regional energy market policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said it is important to turn to renewable energy in addition to reducing pollution.

She said that although renewable energy isn’t perfect, it could be crucial. 

"It’s quite remarkable if you think about the potential to actually maintain our economy and quality of life and our dependency on energy while being able to get that from cleaner sources," Delaney said.

Warren and his team at NC WARN have been openly critical of Duke Energy, one of North Carolina’s energy suppliers. They highlight what they see as a failure to expand renewable energy and the company's role in exacerbating effects of climate change.

Randy Wheeless, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said Duke Energy is pursuing a 15-year plan to make the company one-third solar power and two-thirds natural gas.

"I think Duke and North Carolina have a pretty strong story when it comes to renewable energy," he said.

He said the company has invested $1 billion in renewable energy in the state.

He said Duke Energy has reduced its carbon emissions by 30 percent since 2005, but according to a report by M.J. Bradley and Associates, a national consulting firm, solar and hydro energy only make up one percent of the electricity generated by Duke Energy nationally. Duke Energy spent $684,700 in campaign contributions this election cycle, 78 percent of which went to Republicans. 

Sorg said politicians should think of the future when making decisions about climate change. 

“I hate the cliche ‘think of the children,’ but many of these legislators do have children, or they have grandchildren, and the effects of their vote, the long-term downstream problems that their policy decisions cause, are going to wreak havoc that will last long after they’re dead," Sorg said.

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