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Environmental group links Duke emissions, flooding

A North Carolina environmental group on Tuesday drew a link between power plant carbon emissions and severe weather events, including this summer’s flooding in the Carolinas.

During a news conference at Frazier Park, scene of severe flooding in mid-July, the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center said Duke Energy operates some of the “dirtiest” coal-fired power plants in the country. The group asked the public to urge the Obama administration to push for tighter restrictions on carbon emissions from those plants.

Duke Energy countered Tuesday that it has reduced emissions almost 20 percent since 2008 and is following the plan it developed in cooperation with environmental groups more than a decade ago.

The actual impact of carbon levels in the atmosphere has been a subject of debate among meteorologists, but Graham Givens of Environment North Carolina said the link is there.

“Scientists predict weather events will be more severe with the impact of global warming,” Givens said. “Tackling the problem means dealing with America’s dirtiest power plants.”

Accompanying Givens was UNC Charlotte atmospheric sciences professor Brian Magi, who said the connection between carbon emissions in the atmosphere and severe weather events “is built on evidence. The climate is definitely changing.”

Parts of the Charlotte region received six to eight months’ worth of rain from early June to early August this year, with about a half-dozen severe flooding events. National Weather Service meteorologists say the heavy rain resulted from the combined effect of Atlantic high pressure, pumping humid air into the area, and low pressure over the Great Lakes, creating an unstable atmosphere.

Givens said some scientists have predicted all types of severe weather events, including more intense hurricanes, flooding in some areas, and drought in others.

Magi acknowledged a lack of consensus among meteorologists on the subject, adding, “The disagreements are there, and they’re healthy.”

Some meteorologists say hurricanes, flooding and droughts are part of the cyclical nature of weather, and they have pointed to past episodes of unusual weather events. But Magi said the number of severe weather events over the past 30 years defies statistics.

Givens cited a report from his organization, “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,” that ranks North Carolina as the 12th-most polluting state in the country. He said the state’s power plants produce as much carbon each year as 15 million cars.

Erin Culbert, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said her company “is already doing its part in reducing carbon emissions.”

“It’s ironic that utility critics continue to protest as we carry out the very plan they worked with us to develop more than a decade ago,” Culbert said. “We are well on our way in modernizing our fleet through coal plant retirements, cleaner plants, renewables and energy efficiency.”

She said that by the end of the year, Duke will have retired seven of its 14 coal plants in North Carolina.

According to Environment North Carolina’s study, Duke’s coal-powered Marshall plant along northern Lake Norman ranks 45th nationally among carbon-emitters.

Ronald Ross, vice president of the Stewart Creek Environmental Association, said his group is concerned “that climate change will lead to more of the storms and flooding, like what affected our area this year.”

Givens said the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new limits on power plants Sept. 20.

Culbert said Tuesday’s news conference is “another attempt to eliminate coal as a national fuel source,” adding that she wonders if the group’s opinion is consistent with “all Duke Energy customers who benefit from more affordable rates because coal remains part of our diverse fuel mix.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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