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NC Senate vote sets up showdown with EPA on air quality rules

Buck Steam Station in Rowan County is among the coal-fired power plants in North Carolina that could face new federal emission rules.
Buck Steam Station in Rowan County is among the coal-fired power plants in North Carolina that could face new federal emission rules.

The state Senate voted 31-12 along party lines Wednesday to limit the state’s response to new federal limits on emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants and lay the groundwork for a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA rolled out the limits as part of a “Clean Power Plan” this week. The Senate legislation responds to criticism of the EPA from Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Van der Vaart has said he’s convinced the EPA’s proposal won’t hold up in court, and he argues that North Carolina shouldn’t change its energy policy until the legal status of the federal program is resolved.

Sen. Trudy Wade, a Greensboro Republican, garnered support for an amendment to further clarify how North Carolina would respond to the EPA guidelines. Wade’s amendment replaced the original text of the bill, which simply directed DENR to ignore the federal mandate.

Her proposal would require the state to follow Van der Vaart’s preference among the four options the EPA is providing for states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions: retrofitting coal-fired power plants to improve heat rates. The retrofits would only be required if they are “technically achievable and cost-effective,” the legislation says.

Democrats said Wade’s amendment is a bad idea. “This amendment would severely limit the state to just one option,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat. “Why are we going to go with the most expensive option for our consumers? This amendment all but ensures that the federal government is going to impose its plan on North Carolina.”

Wade’s amendment also directs DENR to sue the EPA once its new regulations become official.

Under the EPA’s plan, North Carolina will have to reduce its CO2 emissions from power plants by 36 percent. That translates to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from 1,780 pounds per megawatt hour in 2012 to 1,136 pounds in 2030.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement condemning EPA’s plan and vowing “a legal challenge to the final rule.” That likely means North Carolina will join with other states that file a lawsuit to get the EPA’s strategy declared illegal.

Staff writer John Murawski contributed to this report

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