Politics & Government

Coal ash, fracking, renewable energy top green list

Coal ash, fracking, greenhouse gases, offshore drilling and renewable sources of energy are some of the environmental issues that will breeze through the legislative building this year on their way to court.

Coal ash: The legislature approved a comprehensive set of regulations and deadlines for cleaning up coal ash from unlined pits across the state. But it was a last-minute product, and some tweaking might be in store.

The Coal Ash Management Commission is expected to spend this year educating its nine members on the issue and won’t get around to the meaty business of prioritizing cleanup sites for another year. Meanwhile, the entire process is under the cloud of a lawsuit the governor has filed challenging the legislature’s authority to appoint the majority of commissioners.

Fracking: The first permits allowing commercial extraction of natural gas from underground shale by hydraulic fracturing are expected to be issued this year. First, the General Assembly has to either vote into law a new set of fracking rules or let them take effect without acting on them.

The Mining and Energy Commission has spent the past 2 1/2 years writing those rules. Last week, an environmental group sued to scrap the commission’s work on the same grounds as the governor’s lawsuit. It asserts that the legislature’s control over boards that carry out executive branch functions is unconstitutional.

Offshore energy: Gov. Pat McCrory is part of a coalition of governors that supports offshore energy exploration. He recently said he wants to reconsider how any revenue-sharing that might happen is divided to help pay for such needs in North Carolina as education, infrastructure and research. He said legislation passed in 2013 should be rewritten to give a larger share to coastal areas to pay for dredging and beach re-nourishment. But any revenue from offshore energy is a long way off.

Renewable energy: The Democratic-controlled legislature in 2007 told electric power suppliers to reduce energy consumption and incorporate green sources, with a deadline to accomplish it. There have been unsuccessful efforts by Republicans to get rid of the renewable portfolio standards in recent years here and in other states. The American Legislative Exchange Council has drafted model bills to accomplish that.

Small-government advocates will be pushing again to either repeal or set a date for the law to expire.

Opponents are concerned about increased electricity rates. Environmentalists say the more the state uses renewables, the easier it is to meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed goals to reduce carbon emissions.

The McCrory administration is fighting the EPA on this, arguing the agency is overstepping its authority in how it would require the carbon reductions from coal plants.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis