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Things are turning around.

As of today, 100 coal plants have been defeated or abandoned since the beginning of the coal rush, which came out of the Bush-Cheney energy plan of 2001. This news comes as President Obama is at the G8 summit in Italy discussing action on global warming. As other countries like China say they will not act until the U.S. does, these 100 stopped plants are a sign from Americans. We are taking action against global warming, and it’s time to join us.

More than 400 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, a main cause of global warming, have been kept out of the air annually as a result of stopping these 100 plants. This is a tremendous achievement that is helping us meet the pollution reductions scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. It also demonstrates an undeniable trend of American communities moving beyond coal and towards clean, renewable energy.

In many places – including NC – a shift to clean energy is now underway. Recent reports indicate green job growth is doing well despite our state’s tough economic climate (report, report, and a few more).

At the beginning of the coal rush, it seemed inevitable that most of the 150 new proposed coal plants would get built. Since then we’ve seen an incredible change in the way people, businesses and governments are thinking about energy; we’re figuring out how to generate and use it more cleanly and efficiently.

In North Carolina, though, the fight against Cliffside continues.

As Congress begins work on climate change legislation, the most likely mechanism for tackling global warming is a “cap and trade” system that would limit and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Both presidential candidates campaigned on the idea last fall.

But depending on how it is designed, such a system can be heavily tilted toward the public interest or, as some would prefer, the interests of polluters. That debate is just beginning.

Jim Rogers, the high-profile CEO of Duke Energy is on record supporting cap and trade legislation — but on Duke’s terms.

Earlier this week, Rogers blasted President Obama’s plan to charge polluters who emit greenhouse gases and invest the proceeds from the sale of carbon permits into speeding up the transition to clean energy. Rogers called Obama’s plan a tax that would hurt consumers.

Duke Energy has a different plan: for Congress to give valuable carbon permits free of charge to polluters, who can then sell them for profit. The stakes are enormous for Duke Energy, which is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide among U.S. utilities.

The truth is that cleaning up our coal burning plants will be costly. It is likely those increased costs will be passed on to ratepayers regardless of the outcome of this debate.

The details won’t always be easy to follow, but a few principles should be clear.  Permits to emit carbon should be used for public benefit, not private windfall. And free allocations, if any, should be limited in size and restricted to a short transition period.

President Obama’s move Monday to allow states to set vehicle emission standards may be a breath of fresh air–quite literally– for North Carolina, where an estimated 40 percent of smog-forming emissions and 34 percent of global warming emissions in our air comes from cars and trucks.

In a sweeping set of directives, President Barack Obama acted aggressively to address global warming and modernize the ailing domestic auto industry by ordering quick action on increased fuel-efficiency standards and swift review of the long-standing request of California and 14 other states for permission to put in place stricter tailpipe standards to reduce global warming emissions.

As of now– once federal permission is granted– 15 states are poised to enjoy cleaner air by virtue of having enacted legislation adopting tailpipe standards that are more stringent than current federal regulations.  There’s no longer any reason for North Carolina not to be among that group.

In 2002, North Carolina proudly passed the Clean Smokestacks bill, which addressed air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  At the 2002 Governors’ Summit on Air Quality in Charlotte, then Governor Mike Easley said it was time now to clean up the cars.  “We have to remember we all came here riding in our own little smokestacks,”  he said.

Legislation has previously been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly that would have our state join the growing number of others states seeking cleaner emission standards, but legislators took a wait and see approach to how EPA would respond to the request of other states for a federal waiver.

Legislators may find of interest a recent NC Division of Air Quality report showing that adopting the California clean car standard would reduce global warming pollution 40% over and beyond the benefits of increased federal fuel economy standards.  That’s good news for a state found to be among the most vulnerable in the nation to the adverse impacts of global warming. 

The national winds are blowing in favor of cleaning up global warming pollution from cars and trucks.  The question now is– will North Carolina join other future-minded states and adopt clean cars legislation?