Caught between a federal mandate to cut carbon emissions and state regulators who seem determined to fight it, dozens of green-energy advocates took to Charlotte’s streets Wednesday.
The state Environmental Management Commission later held a hearing on a proposed compliance plan to Obama administration rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
Because the Department of Environmental Quality views much of Obama’s Clean Power Plan as illegal, DEQ crafted an initial plan that ignores compliance strategies such as leveraging the state’s booming solar industry.
About 100 people attended a rally in Marshall Park before marching across the street to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
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“We have children and grandchildren. We want a habitable planet for them,” Charlottean Christy Kluesner said as she held up one end of a blue banner that read “We Can Do More.” “So it’s not for us.”
The first dozen speakers at the hearing that followed urged the state to more fully embrace renewable energy and abandon the state’s legal challenge of the carbon rules.
“It’s kind of silly,” said solar developer Joel Olsen. Olsen said the state stands to lose money on legal fees when the state’s growth in solar farms and retired coal-fired power plants is poised to meet the federal mandate.
Three speakers in the hearing’s first two hours supported the state plan, predicting as DEQ has that the Obama rules will drive up electric rates for those who can least afford it.
The pre-hearing event, billed as a climate justice march, took a different spin on that concern. Advocates say warming temperatures will disproportionately hurt the poor and people of color.
“Climate justice is literally defined as the fusion of the climate change movement and the social justice movement,” said the Rev. Rodney Sadler, national vice chairman of the Justice Action Mobilization Network. “We realize that to make a difference, everybody’s going to have to be at the table.”
The federal rules set a target for North Carolina to reduce power plant emission rates by 36 percent by 2030, compared to 2012 levels.
June Blotnick, executive director of the advocacy group Clean Air Carolina, said regulators should begin a process to seek broad input into the state plan. Similar negotiations led to the state’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act, which sharply reduced power plant emissions.
While DEQ’s initial compliance plan was crafted by staff members, the department says comments at the public hearings will be considered before it is submitted to the Environmental Management Commission for approval in February.
DEQ says it will prepare a backup plan, with broader public input, in case North Carolina’s legal challenge of the federal rules fails.
The Charlotte hearing came in the wake of a weekend agreement among 195 nations to limit global warming, which is driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, to 3.6 degrees.
Hearings will also be held Thursday in Raleigh and Jan. 5 in Wilmington.