Politics & Government

Cooper warns against opposing new EPA carbon rules

Attorney General Roy Cooper has warned leaders in the General Assembly that resisting new federal clean-air regulations poses legal and environmental concerns.

Cooper sent a letter to legislative leaders on Friday addressing a bill moving through the General Assembly that would require the head of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court to challenge new limitations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The letter comes as a number of states have banded together to oppose the EPA regulations. Led by West Virginia, 16 attorneys general wrote a letter on Wednesday asking for a delay in the regulations. All but one, Kentucky, were from states with Republican governors.

On Monday, the North Carolina Republican Party criticized Cooper for not joining in, although North Carolina was not among the states signing the letter. Gov. Pat McCrory is opposed to the new emission limits, saying they will raise electricity rates and could jeapordize the progress the state has made with air pollution.

“While Governor McCrory was standing up to the Obama administration's harmful new EPA rules, Roy Cooper failed to join a bipartisan group of 16 attorneys general who wrote to urge the administration to suspend these harmful new rules,” N.C. GOP Executive Director Todd Poole said in a statement.

When asked about it on Monday, Cooper’s office released the letter he had sent on Friday.

“Although this legislation poses constitutional questions, I am even more concerned that this action will risk North Carolina's well-deserved reputation for protecting the quality of our air, recruiting businesses that produce cutting-edged technologies and offering leadership around the world on energy issue,” Cooper said in the letter. “North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act, our renewable energy standard and other forward-thinking efforts were forged by collaboration among interested parties such as utilities, environmentalists, businesses and consumer advocates.

“Our state is in a great position to bring these and other stakeholders together once again to work with the EPA to devise our own plan to protect North Carolina's air and promote economic growth.”

Bringing together stakeholders to agree on a way to implement the new EPA measures was the intention of the state House, which voted to do that in April by passing House Bill 571 by a vote of 84-33, with opposition coming from the most hardline conservatives. The motivation to pass it was that it would be better for the state to come up with its own plan rather than have the federal government do it if the state fails to act.

The Senate scotched the stakeholder idea and rewrote the bill to forbid any state agency from taking any steps to implement the clean air rules, and added the lawsuit provision. The Senate later amended the bill to allow DENR to prepare a limited plan while waiting for the legal issues to be resolved.

DENR is exploring legal options, a spokeswoman said Monday, including joining with other states in a petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit.

The regulations would require North Carolina to reduce emissions by 36 percent. Van der Vaart says the EPA plan doesn’t credit the state with recent measures it has used to reduce emissions or consider the advancements in renewable energy.

Opponents think the EPA is exceeding its authority by trying to limit carbon emissions under a little-used provision in the federal Clean Air Act. Some other states support the new limits.