But when the petition was presented before the EMC, several legal implications prevented the commission from adopting the rule, Pontula said.
"We ran into problems with something that is called the 'Hardison Amendment.' It's a part of North Carolina's constitution that prevents the state from passing any legislation that is more strict than the national law on that subject," she said.
Now, Pontula said their focus has shifted to gauging the carbon dioxide emissions in the state. The proposed rule adds to existing requirements under Executive Order 80 that require North Carolina to measure greenhouse gas emissions.
"We decided to go back to the rule and make it more acceptable for the EMC to adopt," she said. "It would be something that would allow them to track our CO2 emissions and budget them, so we can cut it down incrementally."
Pontula and her friends are legally represented by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
Ryke Longest, clinical professor of law at Duke University and co-director of the university's environmental law and policy clinic, said their legal team got involved because they represent clients who would not otherwise have the resources.
"We have a formal application and intake process and these three young people asked for help," he said in an email.
Longest said in an email he admires the students for their efforts.
"I am proud our students have been able to represent these young women as they ask the state of North Carolina to address carbon dioxide pollution and reduce our state’s contribution to climate change," he said.
Longest said carbon emissions are an imminent issue for North Carolina. Carbon dioxide accounts for 80 percent of the state's contributions to climate change through greenhouse gases, he said, and North Carolina's contributions are globally significant.
"(Carbon dioxide) is a serious threat, and North Carolina has the tools to address it immediately," Longest said in the email.
Longest also said the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic has been working with Our Children's Trust, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to youth fighting for a safe climate.
Nate Bellinger, a senior staff attorney with Our Children's Trust, has been working with Pontula, Liu and Turner on their petition. Bellinger said North Carolina is a unique state when it comes to environmental conservation laws.
"There are specific constitutional laws that say North Carolina has to make an effort to conserve land and water and to limit pollution," he said.
Pontula said she hopes the rule is adopted so North Carolina can be an exemplar of the fight against climate change. The team hopes to have a platform where students can endorse and demonstrate the petition.
The hearing for the Pontula, Liu and Turner's petition has not yet been scheduled.