There is a consensus on resilience, but don’t say “climate”
If just half of the funding and policy changes in the pursuit of resilience, flood mitigation and land conservation made it through the budget process, this would be by far the biggest effort by the government. history of the state to meet the challenge of climate change.
This year, there is a broad consensus among parties and between the legislative branch and the executive branch to take bold action in these areas, spending up to $ 1 billion in state money and setting up plans to attract billions more in federal support.
But the consensus on flooding and resilience may turn out to be more the exception than the rule as lawmakers grapple with other strategies and policies that somehow address impacts and to the causes of climate change.
Although with each year and with each new round of disasters the risk of doing nothing becomes clearer, the task of implementing policies in an atmosphere where even the phrase “climate change” is still viewed with suspicion by many. remains one of the heaviest. elevators on Jones Street.
Mark Fleming, President and CEO of the Conservatives for Clean Energy, said polls indicate that while attitudes are changing about clean energy, “climate change” is still a loaded term for some.
“I would say we are getting there as a state, we really are,” he said. “The problem is, if you try to inject the phrase ‘climate change’ everyone is going their own way because of the politics of that phrase. It’s not even the politics as much as the sentence. But if you are talking about sustainability, if you are talking about reducing emissions, the Conservatives are on it. “
There is no doubt that attitudes are changing within the legislature as well, Fleming said. “Ten years ago it was all considered a partisan issue. Today, this is really not the case.
Ten years ago, clean energy was only supported by a few Republican members, Fleming said, up from 10 to 15 members today, a number that is expected to increase with each new class of lawmakers.
“We have come a long way,” he said. “That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done on these issues, but we are seeing a growing number of Conservatives championing these issues. I think you’ll continue to see this and a lot of it is generational. “
Fleming said this year’s resilience and flood legislation is a good sign that a bipartisan consensus is possible. He still expects to see political battles over how to approach solutions in the future, but lawmakers seem increasingly willing to take action.
“The need to do something is the driving force,” he said. “I think we’ll see more and more consensus on this, a bipartisan consensus.”
Representative John Ager, D-Buncombe, said consensus cannot come soon enough. Ager, a farmer and smallholder farmer, tried to pass a bill that would encourage no-till techniques, better use of cover crops and other practices that improve carbon sequestration in soils. This is the kind of bill that is passed in other states, but it fails to catch the attention of his GOP colleagues in Raleigh.
“It has been frustrating,” he said. “We had to be careful to use the right words because he felt like if they heard the wrong words they would just turn their minds away and I don’t know what the right words are to reactivate them.”
Senator Natalie Murdock, D-Durham, said she had reason to hope the legislature was moving in the right direction despite language barriers.
“I think a lot of people don’t want to call it climate change, they don’t want to talk about global warming, but they can focus more on ‘we need more renewable energy’ or ‘we need more. diversity in our energy portfolio. ‘ They may call it something different, but I really think we can achieve this even if they don’t have my belief that climate change is real, ”she said. “I’m focusing on what we agree to and what kind of work from there.”
Murdock said that ultimately the hand of the legislature will be forced by circumstances. The recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Natural Disasters made it clear that the state must take serious action.
“I think we’ll be forced to do it,” Murdock said. “I don’t think you can deny the science.”
Although legislative leaders and Governor Roy Cooper have found common ground on flooding and resilience, strong differences remain over greenhouse gas reduction.
Cooper’s call at the start of his first term for the state to set carbon reduction targets and sign the Paris Agreement met with a cold reception at the North Carolina General Assembly.
This session, opposition to the governor’s carbon reduction targets escalated during Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee confirmation hearings for Cooper’s two choices to lead. from the Ministry of Environmental Quality, former Secretary Dionne Delli-Gatti, whom the Senate rejected, and DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser, who was confirmed last month.
In both rounds of hearings, Senator Paul Newton, R-Cabbarus and former chairman of Duke Energy North Carolina, looked into Cooper’s carbon reduction strategy, arguing that the cuts by North Carolina would be costly and ultimately futile given the increase in emissions. in places like China and India.
“Do you agree with me that if North Carolina is the only one to reduce carbon and everyone in the world is increasing carbon, North Carolina’s contribution to improving the climate is in fact zero? Newton asked Biser on August 17 during his confirmation hearing.
Biser, a former legislative liaison, agreed, but said the state would not go it alone.
“If we were the only ones doing it, I think we would get lost in this bucket,” she replied. “Fortunately, we are joined by a lot of other people. It’s not everyone, as you point out, but I think it’s a priority for a lot of leaders around the world.
Lawmakers also recently criticized a decision by the Environmental Management Commission in July to accept a petition calling on the commission to begin a process of drafting rules to reduce carbon emissions.
Last week, the House added an amendment to a comprehensive energy reform bill that would prevent the administration from joining a regional greenhouse gas deal without explicit legislative approval.
In a response to Coastal Review on Monday, Cooper spokesman Jordan Monaghan said the governor would continue to push for emission reductions and the state would reap the benefits of a clean energy strategy.
“Climate change is an existential threat and we must do our part to reduce carbon emissions, but the economic boost and the well-paying jobs that North Carolina gets if we lead the way for the inevitable transition to renewable energies are just as important, ”Monaghan said. .
While not fully spelled out, a major reduction in the state’s overall carbon output is built into major energy legislation currently in the hands of the Senate.
The legislation, House Bill 951, Modernize Power Generation, would speed up the decommissioning of Duke Energy’s fleet of coal units, streamline solar rules, and reorganize the state’s energy infrastructure. Hammered out in closed-door negotiations earlier this session, the 47-page bill was passed House 57-49 in mid-July, but only after sponsors acknowledged its imperfections and assured colleagues that ‘it would likely undergo substantial changes during the back and forth between the two chambers.
Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican and one of the bill’s three main sponsors, said the direction the legislation will take is unclear.
He said Senate leaders and the governor had an interest in moving the bill forward. “I don’t know what they’re going to do, they could throw it all away and start over, they could take pieces of it,” he said. The most beneficial thing about House Bill 951 wasn’t the end product. These are the discussions that have been raised.
He said policymakers are trying to strike a balance between increasing the production of renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions and containing costs.
“It’s one of those things where everyone has to give up something,” he said.
Monaghan said Cooper wanted to see ideas on renewables, taxpayer protection and clean energy jobs from Executive Order 80, the governor’s clean energy initiative of 2018, incorporated into the bill.
Szoka said that while he does not know where the Senate is headed on the legislation, he expects it to likely include fewer mandates and rely more on the State Public Services Commission than on the House version.
“I think there is a way forward,” he said, “but it’s a process and the energy issues are incredibly complex.”
Murdock, who sits on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy and the Environment, said she does not support the House’s version of the energy bill and expects the Senate to bring significant changes, like putting the utilities board back in the driver’s seat of some of the decisions. .
The result of the legislation may not be exactly the kind of sweeping change initially promised, she said, but there is a real chance of moving forward.
“I know he still has a long way to go,” she said. “But I think we are going in the right direction. I couldn’t support the initial version, but the fact that we are having serious discussions about the retirement of new coal-fired plants is certainly a step in the right direction. “
Like Fleming, Szoka, who has served in the legislature since 2012, argues that despite disagreements over details, attitudes are changing in both chambers and politics should follow.
He said it is true that the legislature has been generally slower to accept the reduction in carbon emissions than Congress and other states, but he recalled a similar skepticism towards renewables.
“When I first came here, the idea was that it wouldn’t exist without tax credits. Now it’s a form of energy that is generally more acceptable to people on both sides, ”he said. “Sometimes ideas change over time and it takes a while to get to where an idea really has weight. “