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Familiar battle lines over emissions planCooper backs, Tillis blasts EPA's proposed power-plant emissions rule

  • May 15, 2023
Winston-Salem Journal

Opinions on proposed new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines to limit emissions from the nation's power plants cut across familiar political and ideological lines, with environment and climate advocates generally reacting favorably and conservatives blasting the Biden administration's latest attempt to limit how much carbon dioxide the energy industry releases into the atmosphere.

The agency's draft rules would require the nation's coal- and gas-fired power plants to eliminate most climate-impacting pollution by 2040.

"North Carolina is already moving away from fossil fuel plants and into clean power generation which will provide cleaner, lower cost electricity for consumers," said Jordan Monaghan, spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper. "This strong federal proposal will help us get there faster while combating climate change and improving air quality across our state."

Cooper, a Democrat, has pushed climate-related policies and legislation, including a bipartisan bill passed in 2021 calling for a 70% reduction in the state's carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and "net-zero" status by mid-century.

Carbon dioxide is the leading human cause of climate change, and the energy sector is the second-largest producer of the greenhouse gas.

North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, meanwhile, called the proposed EPA rule "the latest example of federal overreach that will ultimately raise energy prices and hurt hardworking North Carolinians the hardest."

"President Biden should stop caving to the radical left and doing everything in his power to destroy America's energy industry," Tillis added. "This new rule not only threatens our national security, but harms the electric grid's reliability. The rolling blackouts that California experiences every summer, mimicking a third-world country, is a prime example of the consequences of overregulating the energy industry."

'Meeting the urgency'

In announcing the proposed regulations Wednesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan - North Carolina's former top environmental official - said the Biden administration is committed to taking whatever action necessary in "meeting the urgency of the climate crisis."

The plan would not only "improve air quality nationwide, but it will bring substantial health benefits to communities all across the country, especially our front-line communities ... that have unjustly borne the burden of pollution for decades," Regan said in a speech at the University of Maryland.

The EPA says its proposed standards are expected to generate up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades and avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide emissions through 2042.

A Duke Energy representative insisted Friday that new regulations must strike a practical balance.

"The key to a workable rule is to align with technology development," said company spokesman Bill Norton. "We need to ensure that we push ourselves nationally to develop those next-generation technologies as quickly as possible, while ensuring reliability and affordability."

Norton noted that Duke plans to retire its remaining coal units by 2035, ahead of the proposed rule's emissions timeline. But the company has said it will replace some of that lost generating capacity by adding new gas-powered plants, which emit half the carbon dioxide that coal-burning facilities do and would be subject to the new regulations.

Duke's plan to use natural gas as a "bridge" away from coal and toward more solar, wind, water-generated and nuclear sources has been a particular sore spot for climate advocates who insist the company should make a more direct transition to renewable energy.

'Novel wrinkle'

But the company's strategy aligns in some ways with the proposed new rules because the new gas-powered plants will also be capable of operating on clean-burning hydrogen, said Stan Meiburg, a former deputy administrator at the EPA who now directs Wake Forest University's graduate program in sustainability.

"If you want to take a natural gas approach, this (proposed) standard says you can do that but you have to put in technology to control carbon emissions," Meiburg explained.

That process could include "capturing" carbon smokestack pollution before it is released - a still little-used strategy in the United States - but also could involve "co-firing" gas and hydrogen in the same facility.

"That may be the most-novel wrinkle in this particular (proposed) standard," Meiburg said.

The N.C. Utilities Commission approved Duke's plan for meeting the state's 2030 and 2050 emissions targets on Dec. 30. Natural gas is a key element in that transition, Norton insisted.

"We will advocate for final (federal) regulations that drive our clean energy transition while allowing energy to remain affordable and reliable for our customers," Norton said. "This includes ensuring availability of natural gas generation from our existing and potential future plants."

John Deem covers climate change and the environment in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina. His work is funded by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.336-727-7204


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