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North Carolina Will Miss Emission Reduction Targets

The Environmental Defense Fund found that under existing state policies, the state will reach neither its goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 nor 50 percent reduction by 2030.

(TNS) — North Carolina needs to take additional actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to hit targets meant to help soften the most severe impacts of climate change, a new analysis has shown.

The Environmental Defense Fund analysis found that under existing state policies, North Carolina is set to miss gas reduction targets Gov. Roy Cooper set for 2025 and 2030.

North Carolina is on pace to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 27 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, according to the analysis, short of the 40 percent target Cooper set in Executive Order 80. And the analysis projects a reduction between 28 percent and 38 percent by 2030, the year in which Cooper is targeting an emissions reduction of 50 percent.

The report's findings are in line with an N.C. Department of Environmental Quality report released earlier this year showing the state's greenhouse gas emissions and where they were coming from. The state report, called a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, projected a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2025 and a 39 percent reduction by 2030.

"Really what this analysis shows and what the greenhouse gas inventory has shown is that we can't just stick to the status quo with what we're doing right now and expect to achieve the goals," said Michelle Allen, the EDF's project manager for North Carolina political affairs.

EDF's analysis used data from Rhodium Group's U.S. Climate Service to compare net emissions projections if nothing changed to projections if the state meets greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Jordan Monaghan, a Cooper spokesman, said in a statement that the governor has prioritized emissions reductions through Executive Order 80, which focused on the power sector, and Executive Order 246, which is focused on the transportation sector.

"Bold climate action is a requirement, not an option for Governor Cooper," Monaghan wrote.

Plan For Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cuts

Cooper also signed into law last year's House Bill 951, which requires the N.C. Utilities Commission to approve a plan by the end of this year that would see Duke Energy cut emissions from the state's power generation 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Duke has held three stakeholder meetings and is set to submit a draft of the plan to the commission by May 11.

"The power sector reductions enable us to achieve deeper reductions in those other sectors, but it's not just going to happen on its own," Allen said. "We also need to put in place policies that are going to utilize the reductions from the power sector."

An example of that, Allen said, is Cooper's executive order on transportation. Under that order, the N.C. Department of Transportation and other state agencies will evaluate ways to increase the sales and use of electric vehicles, invest in charging stations and other infrastructure and cut down on total vehicle miles traveled, among other goals.

"Governor Cooper has full confidence that the order positions North Carolina to achieve its stated goals and welcomes the collaborative engagement of diverse stakeholders to turn those goals into reality," Monaghan wrote.

Nick Jimenez, a Southern Environmental Law Center staff attorney who reviewed the report, said it's not surprising that North Carolina is on track to miss the targets. So far, Jimenez said, much of the state's action on greenhouse gas reductions has been planning: Even the reductions mandated under HB 951 are subject to the plan Duke Energy is putting together.

"There's been a lot of planning and kind of work focusing on the power sector, but I think in the background there's a recognition that some of the other sectors are going to be even harder potentially," Jimenez said.

Jimenez is representing environmental groups that successfully argued for the state to enact a rule-making process which could see it enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative along with 11 other eastern states.

That initiative, commonly referred to as RGGI, would cap carbon pollution and require emitters to purchase permits at quarterly auctions, with the number of available permits steadily declining. N.C. Department of Environmental Quality staff are still in the rule-making process.

A state analysis found that joining the program would cut emissions by about 10 million tons in its first year. Achieving those kinds of reductions quickly is important, Jimenez said, because greenhouse gas emissions are cumulative.

In other words, waiting until 2029 or 2030 to take large-scale actions would mean years of additional emissions.

"The longer we wait, the worse it gets, the more we have to do, the more expensive it gets," Jimenez said.

According to the EDF analysis, another plan required by Cooper's transportation order will be important to pushing attention past the power and transportation sectors. Called a "Deep Decarbonization Pathways Analysis," the plan will evaluate how North Carolina can reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and what benchmarks should be set along the way.

The EDF report suggests that some of that attention turn to the industrial sector, which it projects to produce as much greenhouse gases in 2030 as an energy sector that is meeting the goals set out in HB 951.

Allen said, "Once we have identified those pathways and defined solutions, it's going to be really important that that plan doesn't sit on the shelf or collect dust."

This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

(c)2022 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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