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If creating commissions with long fancy titles were solving the greenhouse gas problems, North Carolina might lead the nation.

At last count, at least three boards are charged with identifying ways the state can reduce carbon emissions and thrive in the emerging green economy.

When one of those panels—the Legislative Global Climate Change Commission – met this week it learned that as North Carolina studies, other states are leading with innovative solutions.

Maryland has set a goal of reducing green house emissions 25 percent in a decade, and has a package of policies to get them there. In Arizona, lawmakers set the state on course to cut heat-trapping gases 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2040. New energy standards in Minnesota has that state moving toward reducing emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

In each of those cases, it took similarly charged panels less than a year to recommend a goal and policies to achieve it. The North Carolina commission has been meeting for three years and counting.

There’s no reason North Carolina can’t reduce green house gases 80 percent by 2050. It would require some sacrifice, but the costs of delay – in lost jobs, infrastructure destruction and weather-related human casualties — are much greater.

So here’s an idea: Instead of another commission debate on whether the climate is changing, let’s start dealing with it.

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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.

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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?

 

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Kure BeachThis morning as the mercury soared toward the 100 degree mark, I found myself thinking about North Carolina’s beaches and wishing I was at the coast like my lucky co-worker who’s spending the week at Ocean Isle. So when I came across the annual report release this week by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on beach water quality, I quickly flipped through to the section about North Carolina.

Here’s what I learned:

  • North Carolina has 241 public coastal beaches stretching 415 miles along the Atlantic waters of the barrier islands. 38% (92 beaches) are on the ocean side.
  • Seventeen counties have marine coastline, and all have at least one beach that is monitored.
  • The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) has been monitoring beach water quality since 1997.
  • The state spends approximately $240,000 annually to monitor beaches weekly April through October.
  • Only 2% of the water samples taken from ocean beaches exceeded water safety standards (versus beaches in other parts of the country that had 50%-60% of samples exceed safe standards).

Based on its findings, NRDC announces the best and worst beaches for protecting beachgoers from contaminated waters. This year, North Carolina had 2 beach communities named among the top 13 “beach buddies”: Kure Beach and Kill Devil Hills Beach. Communities who were named as “beach buddies” monitored beach water quality regularly, violated public health standards less than 10 percent of the time, and took significant steps to reduce pollution.

We’re lucky. North Carolina has fantastic natural resources. Let’s show our appreciation for them by keeping up efforts to fight pollution and conserve open spaces.

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The UNC School of Public Health conducted two studies looking at the health effects on communities neighboring industrial hog facilities.

The first study, Race, Poverty, and Hog Facilities in North Carolina reports that

Low-income schools in communities of mostly people of color had industrial hog facilities within 3 miles more often than schools in mostly white and high-income communities. As distance from the nearest hog facility increased, so did white enrollment and income level of the school.

The second study, Adolescent Asthma Symptoms and Industrial Hog Facilities found a large number of students at schools near hog facilities suffered breathing problems.

At schools near hog facilities:

  • 7% more students reported that a doctor told them they had asthma
  • 7% more students used asthma medication
  • 6% more students visited doctors or emergency rooms or were hospitalized for asthma

Technology exists to reduce the impact of hog pollution. North Carolinians do not need to suffer harmful health effects from exposure to hog facility pollution. The House and Senate have recommended legislation that would prohibit open hog lagoons and provide assistance to farmers in the form of grants to help them upgrade their waste systems but Smithfield Foods is blocking this legislation that would put clean technologies on hog farms in NC. Shame on Smithfield Foods for putting corporate profits ahead of community health.