According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011 set a record for the number of billion dollar disasters in a single year in the US – 12 – topping nine events in 2009. Two of those were in our state – Hurricane Irene and the April tornadoes, placing NC fourth for 2011. The 12 events, which included extreme drought, wildfires, floods, heat waves, winter storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, caused more than 1,000 deaths and 8,000 injuries.
In a recent online video, National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said, “In my weather career spanning four decades, I’ve never seen a year quite like 2011… Extreme weather and associated societal impacts have increased in recent years with our changing climate and the nation must be prepared for more frequent extreme weather in the future.”
While every natural disaster cannot be linked to global warming, a warming climate provides more fuel for extreme events. Yet even in the face of 2011’s extreme weather, Republicans and Democrats alike drag their feet to create policies to curb global warming.
Here are some policy and regulatory debates to watch this year. Together these will have short and long term impacts on global warming and the nation’s energy policy. The only question is whether our elected officials will help or hinder our need to move to a clean energy economy.
Smog: This past fall, President Obama responded to industry and some states’ complaints about upcoming smog regulations and deferred them – rules that would curb the potent greenhouse gas and protect Americans with chronic lung and heart disease, seniors and children.
Governor Perdue’s staff wrote the EPA, urging a deferral of the rules, because “many North Carolinians have lost their jobs and health insurance and face the real possibility of losing their homes.” Huh? This one ain’t over yet.
Offshore Drilling: Also in the fall, Governor Perdue’s opposition to offshore drilling for oil and gas weakened. The News and Observer reported that she now leans to support it, when in 2008 she ran for governor in opposition. After a panel she appointed to study offshore energy options released its findings, she changed her view.
If you read the findings, you’d bet on offshore wind, as NC has the most wind energy potential on the entire east coast. The panel gave Perdue everything she needed to maintain her opposition to offshore drilling. So why hedge now? Stay tuned – the state legislature will continue to debate this one.
Fracking: Hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits for natural gas is currently banned in NC. News in 2011 about this boom and bust industry highlighted the environmental and community toll in several states where “fracking” is happening. North Carolina Republicans want to scrap the ban and get drilling. Yet serious environmental concerns are being raised, not to mention the contribution more fossil fuel extraction will make to global warming. This battle will reach a fever pitch.
Keystone XL Pipeline: In late 2011, the State Department postponed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial plan to move oil created from Canadian tar sands across the U.S. According to James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, “The carbon emissions from tar shale and tar sands would initiate a continual unfolding of climate disasters over the course of this century.” The pipeline is in jeopardy but far from dead.