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Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In case you missed it over your holiday break, Governor Pat McCrory named Don van der Vaart as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to replace Secretary John Skvarla who is moving over to head the Department of Commerce.

Van der Vaart was serving as Deputy Secretary of DENR and as the state’s first “energy policy adviser” according to a press release from McCrory’s office. That means, according to the release, that van der Vaart “focuses on increasing domestic energy exploration, development and production in North Carolina as well as promoting related economic growth and job creation.”

In other words, the new secretary’s previous job was pushing drilling and fracking  and other industry objectives in a department that’s priority is supposed to be protecting the environment.

And that’s not the most disturbing part of his appointment. Read More

Commentary

windfarmIn case you missed it, the good people at Environment North Carolina released another very encouraging report last week on the growth and potential of renewable energy — this time focusing on wind. The report is entitled “More Wind, Less Warming: How American Wind Energy’s Rapid Growth Can Help Solve Global Warming” and it’s worth a few minutes of your time — both to lift your spirits and to help prepare you for your next debate with the fossil fuels lover next door.

This is from the executive summary:

“Wind power is on the rise across America. The United States generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than we did in 2001, providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming.

American wind power is already significantly reducing global warming pollution. In 2013 alone, wind power averted 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — as much as would be produced by 34 typical coal-fired power plants. But with the United States and the world needing to move toward a future of 100 percent clean energy in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, America must do much more.

If America were to take advantage of just a fraction of its wind energy potential to get 30 percent of its electricity from the wind by 2030, the nation could cut carbon emissions from power plants to 40 percent below 2005 levels. That much wind power would help states meet and exceed the carbon dioxide emission reductions called for by the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft Clean Power Plan, and help the nation meet its commitment to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26 to 28 percent by 2025.

Power plants are the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. By implementing policies that increase the production of wind energy, both on- and offshore, America can help put the nation and the world on a course to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.”

The bottom line: Wind energy can become a huge source of power in the U.S. and federal, state and local governments can make a big difference in pushing it forward in order to speed the nation’s transition from carbon to renewables. Let’s keep building the momentum.

Commentary

As Clayton Henkel reports below, even national news media have taken note of the embarrassingly cozy relationship between Duke Energy and North Carolina’s environmental regulators. Of course, federal prosecutors have too.

If ever there was a time for the state’s governor to signal a new direction and put the public ahead of polluters, now’s the time. An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Wilmington Star News  agrees:

“[Outgoing secretary John] Skvarla insisted from day one that he intended to make the scaled-down Department of Environment and Natural Resources more ‘customer-friendly.’ And it quickly became clear that his definition of ‘customer’ largely meant the corporate and development interests that apply for environmental permits.

But there is another category of customers: the people of North Carolina. Not only do they pay taxes to support the department, but they count on its regulators to protect the environment and public health.”

It concludes this way:

“Questions about the cozy relationship between DENR staff and the businesses they regulate did not originate with this administration; it has been an ongoing issue. Regulators do not have to be unnecessarily obstructionist. There is a lot to be said for streamlining the permit process, providing clarity on the rules and making sure businesses do not face long delays in obtaining permits, assuming their projects meet state standards.

But a regulator’s job is to regulate, not to placate. McCrory says he will cast the net far and wide to find the right person to fill the DENR post, both inside and outside the agency. That person should not only be a strong leader but also understand that the agency’s primary responsibility is to protect the state’s air, water, soil and other natural resources.”

Read the entire piece by clicking here.

Commentary

Dafeng Power Station in China

Among the most prominent reasons for US inaction on climate change has been China. The story goes like this – we are unwilling to engage at international climate talks until the Chinese take a serious step. You can see several clips here of members of Congress making these claims for over the years.

Coal Power Station in Asheville

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Commentary
Ozone EPA

Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Good government can do a lot of to things to improve the quality of life for its citizens, but when you get down to it, making people healthier and safer is pretty much at or close to the top of any reasonable person’s list. That’s why the Affordable Care Act was and is, ultimately, for all its imperfections and corporate giveaways, a success. At the end of the day, more people will be alive, healthier and happier because of the ACA.

Happily, the same is also true of another important Obama administration initiative announced today: new rules to curb ozone pollution. As Newsweek.com reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday its proposal for a long-delayed regulation to curb ozone pollution, a human health hazard linked to asthma, heart disease, premature death, and an array of pregnancy complications. Read More