The Pulse

Between Trump and the NC legislature, it’s been a rough week for those who like living on Earth

By: - March 30, 2017 9:15 am
The Rubber Stamp Rebellion, so called because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rarely meets a pipeline it doesn’t like, shut down a scheduled talk by Acting FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

[dropcap] I [/dropcap] t’s only Thursday morning and already the Earthlings are in trouble.

First, a disturbing public meeting occurred on Monday about Duke University‘s controversial proposed natural gas power plant (more on that issue later today). It was disturbing because the level of transparency about the $55 million plant has been akin to wearing eyeglasses coated with Vaseline.

Also at Duke University, on Tuesday afternoon, Cheryl LaFleur, acting chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was essentially run out of town on a rail by protesters demonstrating against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, 160 miles of which will pass through eastern North Carolina. FERC is responsible for approving energy infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines. It never fails to please — the energy companies.

The entire event was FUBAR: at a capacity of 134, the room at Gross Hall was too small to accommodate the crowd. Attendees were required to register in advance — although NCPW spotted one man in a suit say he “meant to register,” and then was allowed in with a guest. One protester was arrested when he tried to barge into the room without registering. Alas, he wasn’t wearing a suit. (And it should be noted that FERC banned the media, including NCPW, from hearing public comment at “listening sessions” on the ACP last month.)

Depressed yet? Here’s a rundown of the week’s bad news for planet (so far):

  • On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking the Clean Power Plan. The CPP, which would have authorized the EPA to more stringently regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s environmental legacy.
    But natural gas could also get a pass under Trump’s unilateral move. By rolling back the CPP, the Trump administration likewise could rewrite rules to allow more methane — an even more potent greenhouse gas — to enter the atmosphere.
    Obama set a goal of reducing these emissions 40 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Without these checks, the White House announced in 2015, emissions from the oil and gas sector are projected to rise more than 25 percent by 2025.
  • Then on Wednesday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing that threw shade on the mainstream science of climate change. The hearing was led by conservative Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, who claims to be very, very concerned about the scientific method. His opening salvo included this statement: “Before we impose costly government regulations we have to be certain of human contributions [to climate change]. Far too often we get alarmist theories from scientists operating beyond the scientific method.”
    Ninety-seven percent of the established scientific community have used the scientific method to conclude that human-caused climate change is occurring, altering the Earth’s weather patterns and events to the detriment of the planet. Yet Smith’s subcommittee hearing featured three fringe scientists — go-to’s for conservative climate change deniers — whose credibility is suspect. Some of the work of at least one of them, Judith Curry, has been partially funded by the fossil fuel industry.[bctt tweet=”Scientist Michael Mann tells House committee you find implications of the research inconvenient to the funders of your political campaigns” username=”NCPolicyWatch”]The fourth panelist, Michael Mann, is a respected establishment climatologist frequently attacked by the deniers. “Climate change is real,” Mann said, “and it’s having effects on economy and planet.” He criticized lawmakers who are “going after scientists because you find implications of the research inconvenient to the funders of your political campaigns.”

  • While Rep. Smith was busy extolling his importance of science, the full House that afternoon voted to restrict the EPA’s use of it. The oxymoronically named HONEST Act would prevent the EPA, when writing new rules and regulations, from using any science that isn’t publicly available. The problem is the EPA doesn’t always own the scientific data and doesn’t have the authority to release it.
    All of the Republican delegation from North Carolina voted for the bill. Every Democrat opposed it. (A previous version of this story quoted a different roll call vote; this post has been corrected.)
  • Meanwhile, in the state legislature, House Bill 470 would sharply restrict the expansion and construction of onshore wind farms. This apparently is a reaction to the new wind farm in Elizabeth City, operated by Avangrid. (That company also recently won a federal lease auction to build an off-shore wind farm 27 miles from Kitty Hawk.)
    Sponsored by Rep. Bill Cook, a Beaufort Republican, the measure would prohibit wind farms from being within a mile of a residential property line. This restriction is more rigorous than those governing setbacks from coal-fired or natural gas power plants.
    Another bill, HB 319, introduced in early March, would create regulatory hurdles for solar farms, as well.
    Filed Wednesday, SB 487 creates the illusion — abacadabra –– that utilities could reduce electricity demand by relaxing the limits on energy efficiency, currently established in the Renewable Portfolio Standard. The REPS allows utilities to account for up to 25 percent of its renewable requirement through energy efficiency; by 2021, that figure rises to 40 percent.
    Under the bill, co-sponsored by Republicans Trudy Wade and Andrew Brock, there is no ceiling — but there is no floor, either.



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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.