NC environmental agency questions EPA carbon plan

North Carolina’s environmental agency has raised equity and legal concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The EPA held hearings this week on the ground-breaking proposal it rolled out in June. The proposal left environmentalists jubilant over action to limit greenhouse gases linked to climate change. Skeptics say it will kill jobs and drive up electric rates.

The energy policy adviser for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says North Carolina could join other states in fighting the EPA in court. “We haven’t passed the hat preparing for litigation,” he added.

State officials are still assessing the impacts of the proposal, but DENR energy adviser Donald van der Vaart said, “It’s pretty easy: Our electric rates are going to go up.”

North Carolina’s power plants would have to reduce emission rates, or releases per energy produced, by 44 percent by 2030.

That target is compared with emissions in 2012, well after a state crackdown on power plant pollutants that also reduced greenhouse gases (2002) and ordered utilities to generate energy from emission-free renewable sources (2007). Duke Energy has retired half of its 14 coal-fired power plants in the state in a shift toward natural gas fuel.

The state wouldn’t get credit for those initiatives under the EPA proposal, DENR said, and would instead be expected to reduce emissions more sharply than states that still rely heavily on coal.

Van der Vaart said the rules would put pressure on the state’s utilities to burn less coal and more gas, which produces lower emissions, while expanding renewable energy, energy efficiency and demand-limiting programs. “All those things cost money,” he said.

Air-quality director Sheila Holman, at an EPA hearing in Washington on Wednesday, said legal flaws could get the plan overturned in court, like earlier EPA rules, after states have spent effort trying to comply with it. States shouldn’t be forced to act until court challenges are over, she said.

Duke Energy federal affairs director Toby Short, testifying in Washington on Wednesday, asked the EPA to extend the comment period, which expires in mid-October, for at least 60 days because of the “tremendous number of highly complex issues regarding the way electricity would be generated” in response.

Short added that Duke has “several significant areas of concern” with the plan. Duke officials later declined to elaborate.