Senate committee votes to prohibit DENR from developing state Clean Air Plan to regulate carbon dioxide

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RALEIGH – This morning a state Senate committee voted out a bill on a voice vote that would prohibit the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from starting its own state plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from stationary power plants. The vote was on a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) to House Bill 571. The EPA’s Federal Clean Power Plan requires states to begin work, but is currently facing a judicial review of its constitutionality. The PCS passed this morning would prohibit work on a plan until the review is complete.

However, the bill is unlikely to proceed as is. Bill sponsor Senator Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) told committee members that if they pass it, she will encourage staff to work with DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart on an amendment because he says that, while he appreciates the sponsors’ intention, a stay could likely harm the state more than if DENR proceeds with developing a state plan.

trudywade

Senator Trudy Wade (R-Guilford)

“It takes several years to develop the plan, so deadline will likely be 2-3 years out. If we don’t develop a plan in time, we will certainly have the federal plan, so we won’t be without a plan at all,” said Wade in response to concerns from committee members that the state will be playing “catch-up” in developing a plan, should the judicial review comes back in the EPA’s favor.

But a Federal EPA plan is exactly what van der Vaart wants to avoid. He asked lawmakers to reject the PCS, testifying that it would eventually tie his hands.  He requested that he be allowed to build the first steps of a State Clean Air Plan, or Building Block 1, the only part that DENR attorneys have determined is constitutional.

Don van der Vaart Secretary, N.C. Department of Energy and Natural Resources

Don van der Vaart
Secretary, N.C. Department of Energy and Natural Resources

“If we cannot put forth ANY plan, we will be allowing the EPA to take over,” van der Vaart told committee members. “Because this is a federal rule, we are going to challenge it as soon as it comes out. We have to have a plan that is compliant with the Clean Air Act so the EPA can’t say that North Carolina didn’t submit anything,” He told the committee.

Van der Vaart also told members that the state is actually ahead of schedule in meeting the 2030 power plant emissions requirements outlined in the Clean Air Act, leading several senators on the committee to question the need for the PCS.

“Why do we need to do anything, if according to the Secretary we are already 30 percent ahead of schedule?” said Sen. Hartsell.

But supporters of the PCS said that they do not want the state spending time and money developing an emissions control plan that may eventually either end up on the cutting room floor or end up boosting energy costs for North Carolina’s citizens and businesses.

“Forget about the EPA, forget about DENR, forget about the owners of the power plants,” Americans for Prosperity Director Donald Bryson told the committee. “You need to focus on the people who could be paying the bill.”

The committee members generally sided with DENR in opposing the EPA’s order to have all states develop a State Plan, whether they believed it was unconstitutional, unnecessary, too costly or simply a Federal intrusion into the state’s right to take responsibility for its own air quality. But the best course of action was the point of contention.

“The EPA’s (Clean Power Plan) converts our electrical system from a least-cost system to a carbon-based system, which will increase costs for consumers and businesses and impact the poorest areas the most.  The EPA has chosen the wrong vehicle to implement the Clean Air Act.”

Sen. Wade says that the next step is coordinating language with Secretary van der Vaart and staff legal counsel to craft an amendment to the PCS. The amendment could be offered on the Senate floor.