Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Congratulations to all of us for getting through a particularly energetic and crowded primary election season. 

In this update, we will get you up to speed (quickly) about who in WNC won and lost on Tuesday, then turn our attention to the North Carolina General Assembly, which began its so-called “short session” on May 18.

For Western North Carolina, the primary season was dominated by the Republican nomination in the 11th Congressional district, where state Senator Chuck Edwards defeated incumbent Madison Cawthorn. But, there were a few other races of note as well. Perhaps the most closely watched was the GOP primary for the 47th state senate seat, where incumbent GOP Senators Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard faced off. Hise won the race narrowly – by 311 votes. In other races, GOP state Senator Warren Daniel likely earned a return to the Senate after defeating Mark Crawford in a Republican-leaning 46th Senate district. In Buncombe County, incumbent Julie Mayfield (and MountainTrue co-director) defeated Asheville City Council member Sandra Kilgore and entrepreneur and community activist Taylon Breeden in the Democratic primary for the heavily democratic 49th Senate district. In the House, Rep. Jake Johnson defeated Rep. David Rogers for the GOP nomination after redistricting forced them to run in the same heavily Republican 113th district

With primary elections complete, lawmakers will come into the capital as focused on the general election as any bill or budget. For the last few years, Republicans — who control both the state Senate and House — have been unable to find the votes to override Gov. Cooper’s numerous vetoes. The GOP leadership hopes to pick up enough seats in both chambers in the general election to secure veto-proof supermajorities for Cooper’s last two years in office. 

With so much at stake in November, the 2022 session is expected to be short, and many lawmakers have talked about adjourning for the year by July 4. So look for the General Assembly to avoid controversial issues and pass relatively few bills. 

The major work of any short session is to revise the second year of the state’s biennial budget. This year, lawmakers have more money than ever before to accomplish this task. State revenues are expected to be at least $5 billion more than projected when the two-year budget was approved last year. Whether and how to spend that money will be the major issue of the session, along with expanding Medicaid eligibility for the approximately 600,000 North Carolinians without health insurance. 

On spending, look for the Senate Republicans to push to put most of the surplus in the state’s strategic reserve. House Republicans will also support increased savings, but will want to spend more to win votes in November and keep rank-and-file members happy with investments in their districts. 

Of course, a revised budget requires the Governor’s signature, and last year reaching a budget deal took months of negotiation. With a budget already in place for FY22-23, another long stalemate is very unlikely. If they cannot get a budget deal, the GOP leadership is more likely to shut the session down, proceed to electioneering, and return to pass a bill in 2023 when they hope they won’t need Cooper’s signature to pass a budget or a bill. 

For MountainTrue, our priorities for the session are simple. We’d like lawmakers to use some of that surplus to help farmers, property owners, and local governments keep our rivers and streams clean. That means investing more to help farmers pay for fencing and other strategies to keep animal waste from causing spikes of E. coli in WNC waters. Like this agriculture assistance money, demand for state funds to help homeowners and local governments keep their runoff and wastewater out of rivers and streams is also far outstripped by demand. We’d like to see those funding shortfalls addressed. 

Finally, MountainTrue has developed a list of shovel-ready, noncontroversial projects for river and stream access, trail development, and dam removal across the region that we hope rank-and-file lawmakers will support as part of their budget priorities in their districts. 

Providing WNC with a voice in Raleigh for clean water, clean air, and a sustainable future is a cornerstone of MountainTrue’s mission. For more information about our advocacy efforts, visit our website and, as always, thank you for your support – we could not do what we do in the mountains or in Raleigh without you. 

Shovel-Ready Projects for WNC

  • Polk County – Expand public access to the Green River by developing a new public river access point on property owned by the Polk County Community Foundation at S. Wilson Hill Road ($150,000 nonrecurring to Polk County Community Foundation).
  • Watauga County – Improve public access to the Watauga River Paddle Trail by purchasing an additional access point ($500,000 nonrecurring to Blue Ridge Conservancy).
  • WNC – Promote eco-tourism in Western NC by creating the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail – includes at least one publicly-accessible site in 24 WNC counties, a website, a printed trail map, and an educational panel at each site ($150,000 nonrecurring to Mainspring Conservation Trust).
  • Cherokee County – Improve public access to the River Walk & Canoe Trail on the Valley and Hiwassee Rivers in downtown Murphy by fixing erosion under the bridge at Leech Place, building a boardwalk for the Fisherman’s Loop, and extending the path to a new workforce housing development ($250,000 nonrecurring to Town of Murphy).
  • Jackson County – Improve public access and water quality by constructing green infrastructure in Sylva’s Bridge Park. This project is recommended in the Scotts Creek Watershed Action Plan and is shovel-ready ($700,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Sylva).
  • Haywood County – Enhance Chestnut Mountain Nature Park by building new hiking, biking, and walking paths and trails and installing a playground and creekside park. This project is shovel-ready, including a detailed budget and construction plans ($600,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Canton).
  • Transylvania and Henderson Counties – Help manage a steep increase in public use at DuPont State Recreational Forest by creating one additional recreation staff position ($70,000 recurring to NC Forest Service).

Sing up to get the Raleigh Report in your inbox

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Raleigh Report: With District Maps in Place, We Preview the Primary Election

Raleigh Report: With District Maps in Place, We Preview the Primary Election

Now that the months-long political mud wrestling match known as redistricting is over, it’s a good time to take a look at what the state’s new legislative and congressional maps mean for Western North Carolina. 

We won’t go over the legislature’s – and the courts’ – torturous path to finalizing districts maps. Suffice to say that the process reached its inglorious end with decisions by both the NC and US Supreme Courts. The House and Senate maps will remain in place for a decade, but the congressional map will be redrawn next year because it was imposed by a court rather than adopted by the legislature. 

By far, most media attention has focused on the adventures of Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who has been a politician in search of a district in which to run. With congressional districts finally settled, Cawthorn decided to run in his current district in the state’s westernmost – and GOP-leaning – counties, where he faces a crowded field of other Republicans in the primary, including state Senator Chuck Edwards and Michele Woodhouse, both of Henderson County. 

Whatever his prospects in the congressional race, Edwards’ departure from the legislature has to be judged as a loss for WNC conservation interests. A staunch conservative, Edwards is the chair of a key Senate appropriations committee and has used his influence to direct millions of dollars in conservation, restoration, and water quality protection to our region. We will miss his strong work in Raleigh. 

While the new maps have altered many legislative districts, they have not produced many newly competitive districts. One of the exceptions is state Senate District 47, where two GOP Senate incumbents – Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard – will battle it out in the primary for the right to run in the general election. This newly drawn district includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey counties. The district leans strongly Republican, so the primary winner is very likely to win the general election. Both Hise and Ballard are strong legislators who chair important committees in the Senate, so this race is being billed as a sort of clash of Senate titans. 

Aside from Ballard vs. Hise, there is surprisingly little political drama left in the WNC primary season in either the GOP or Democratic races. Rep. Tim Moffit will run unopposed in the GOP primary to fill Edwards’ seat in the state Senate in a district that leans heavily Republican. In the Senate’s far west District 50, incumbent GOP legislator Kevin Corbin is unopposed in the primary for this conservative district. Barring an upset, Corbin will also return to the legislature in 2023. 

Buncombe incumbent Senator (and MountainTrue co-director) Julie Mayfield faces a primary challenge from Asheville City Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore and two-time candidate in other races, Taylon Breeden, in a district that leans heavily Democratic. 

In House District 93, which includes Ashe and Watauga counties, incumbent GOP Rep. Ray Pickett and Democratic challenger Ben Massey are both running unopposed in the primary. This seat has changed hands between the two parties in recent years and is expected to be a bit of a dogfight again this fall. 

In House District 113, two incumbent Republicans – Rep. Jake Johnson of Polk County and Rep. David Rogers of Rutherford County – face off in the GOP primary for another conservative-leaning district. 

In House District 114, which includes a portion of Buncombe County, Eric Ager is running unopposed in the Democratic primary to replace his father John, who is retiring his liberal-leaning House seat. 

In another Buncombe House seat, District 115, Lindsey Prather will run unopposed in the Democratic primary for the right to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Turner in a district that favors Democrats. 

And in Buncombe House 116, Democrat Caleb Rudow will run unopposed to hold the Democratic-leaning House seat he was appointed to when long-time Buncombe Rep. Susan Fisher retired in January. 

Over in Henderson County, two Republicans – Jennifer Balkcom and Dennis Justice – are running to fill Tim Moffit’s House seat, which is likely to remain in GOP control. 

Farther west, incumbent GOP House members Mark Pless (District 118) and Mike Clampitt (District 119) are running unopposed in Republican primaries. Barring unexpected upsets in the general election, both are likely to return to the legislature in these safely conservative districts. Likewise, incumbent GOP House member Karl Gillespie in District 120 is running unopposed in the primary and will have a free ride in the general election as no Democrat filed to run in the opposing party’s primary. 

For a complete list of House races and candidates, click here. Senate races and candidates can be found here. 

So the upshot is that in WNC, most of our delegation will remain solidly Republican, with most incumbents likely to return. Known exceptions are our primary GOP environmental champion, Sen. Chuck Edwards, either Sen. Ralph Hise or Sen. Deanna Ballard, and either Rep. Jake Johnson or Rep. David Rogers. Democrats are likely to win all of the Buncombe County legislative races, with new members in all of the county’s three House seats. 

Again, most of these races will be won in the primary, so we will be back in touch after May 17 to report on these races again.

MountainTrue Wins Historic Investments for WNC

MountainTrue Wins Historic Investments for WNC

MountainTrue Wins Historic Investments for WNC

As you may know, lawmakers at the North Carolina General Assembly finally approved a budget in November after months of wrangling among themselves as well as with Governor Cooper. The new spending plan represents the first full budget approved by the legislature and signed by the Governor since 2018.

The budget makes substantial investments in Western North Carolina, including many of the funding priorities MountainTrue has been promoting since this time last year — when lawmakers began their 2021 session.

Every year, MountainTrue makes a list of priority projects and programs for funding in the state budget. We then work with WNC legislators and our various partners — including our members at the grassroots level — to help convince lawmakers to invest in our rivers, streams, mountains, and forests. 

Here’s a quick look at MountainTrue’s budget victories in Raleigh: 

  • Funding for removal of dams across WNC — $7.2 million.
  • Recurring funding for landslide mapping in WNC — $370,000.
  • Restoration of the successful Waste Detection Elimination Program (WaDE) to help property owners identify and remedy failing septic systems on their property — $200,000 in both years of the biennial budget.
  • Recurring funding for water quality testing in the French Broad and other WNC rivers and streams — $100,000.

MountainTrue also went to bat for several important projects to improve public access to and/or protect water quality in rivers and streams throughout our region. New state funding for these projects included:

  • Watauga River Paddle Trail in Watauga County — $150,000. 
  • Permanent public access to a popular recreational area on the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties — $150,000.
  • Removal of the Ward Mill Dam on the Watauga River in Watauga County — $100,000 
  • Outdoor recreation improvements at Island Park on the Tuckaseegee River in Swain County — $200,000. 
  • Expanded fishing, canoeing, and kayaking on the Valley River in Cherokee County — $125,000. 
  • Improved access to and stream restoration on the Bakersville Creekwalk in Mitchell County — $200,000. 

Some other budget items that MountainTrue supported include $12.2 million for Pisgah View State Park in Buncombe County and $750,000 for planning and improvements to DuPont State Forest. 

Of course, no one gets everything they want in the state budget process. Two of MountainTrue’s priorities — additional funding to help livestock producers reduce water pollution from their farming operations and communities to manage stormwater runoff — did not make it into the state’s spending plan. MountainTrue will continue to work in support of these investments in 2022.

We at MountainTrue extend our gratitude to the WNC legislators from both parties for their help with these budget victories. A big shout out to Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County — from the beginning of his time in the Senate, Edwards has shown a consistent commitment to water quality issues in our region and used his position on a key Senate budget committee to address them. We are especially grateful to him for his partnership with MountainTrue.

But you, our supporters, are still MountainTrue’s most important partner. We are the only WNC environmental organization with a year-round presence in Raleigh. Your support makes our work in the capital possible! Thank you and cheers to an impactful 2022!

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Houston, We Have a Budget

Houston, We Have a Budget

After almost a full calendar year in session (to say nothing of a three-year delay since the last budget was approved) the North Carolina General Assembly has approved — and Governor Cooper has signed — a complete spending state plan, which now totals more than $25 billion annually.

If you have been following the budget, uh, “process”, you already know that despite generous revenue in the state’s coffers, legislators and Governor Cooper have been unable to reach an agreement on the budget since 2019. (If you are not familiar with the details of this impasse, here is a good overview).

We will spare you the gory details of how we arrived at a budget in November – almost halfway through the fiscal year, which officially started in July.

Much more important is the what of the budget. And on that front, the news for the environment is good. And particularly good for Western North Carolina.

For starters, the budget makes very generous investments in open space conservation. Major trust funds for state parks, land and water conservation, and farmland preservation all received substantial new funding. Legislators also went big on funding for trails — long overlooked in our opinion — with $29 million in new funding. And there is $15 million for Pisgah View State Park in Buncombe County.

With state funding plentiful as a result of a robust economy and generous federal funding for post-pandemic economic recovery, legislators also opened up the bank to better protect the state from flooding and extreme weather. Indeed they invested close to $300 million to help the state become more storm resilient — a good start to help the state adapt to the effects of climate change.

For MountainTrue, advocating for WNC investments is a major part of our 2021 legislative agenda, and we’re pleased to report success. The new budget includes funding for landslide mapping in our region, water quality testing, pollution cleanup, and dam removal for our rivers and streams. We have spent the last year lobbying in Raleigh for these priorities. Some of our other victories include a variety of smaller investments in stream improvement, paddle trails, and public access that will make it easier to enjoy some of the most beautiful places in the mountains.

As you know, MountainTrue is the only environmental organization located in WNC with a year-round advocate in Raleigh. So, thank you to all of you who make our lobbying efforts possible.

The budget received strong bipartisan support — a rarity these days in Raleigh. So another thank you to all of the legislators who made this fiscal win possible. We also want to include a special shoutout to Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County, who chairs a particularly important budget subcommittee and was critical to MountainTrue’s budget success this year.

Of course, no budget or bill is perfect and this year’s budget is no exception. While the new spending plan is generous when it comes to one-time funding, its new recurring investment in the Department of Environmental Quality, — while very welcome — is still too modest. Yes, there is new recurring funding to address “emerging contaminants” like GenX and to do the landslide mapping we mentioned earlier; but NC DEQ has suffered from more than a decade of continuous budget-cutting even as the environmental issues facing our state have become more numerous and complex. We would have preferred a more ambitious investment to address this years-long shortfall.

Having said that, there is a great deal more to like than dislike in this budget — one, which despite all the delays, was well worth the wait.

‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

‘Energy Solutions’ Bill Sets North Carolina on Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2050

On Wednesday, October 13, Governor Roy Cooper signed a bill called “Energy Solution for North Carolina” or HB 951. Standing behind a podium bearing the words Securing Our Clean Energy Future, Cooper confidently asserted “ … today I will sign a historic bill that gives us an extraordinary new tool in our fight against climate change. Today, North Carolina moves strongly into a reliable and affordable clean energy future.”

Clearly, this wasn’t the same HB 951 that had been negotiated behind closed doors by House Republicans, Duke Energy, and other industry groups and passed by the House on a 57-49 vote in July. That bill had been met with outrage from environmental groups, clean energy advocates, and ratepayers, and opposition from Senators in both parties. No, this new version had been reformed and revised through direct negotiations between the Governor and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. The result: a bipartisan compromise that puts North Carolina on a path toward meeting the Governor’s aggressive climate goals. Just as surprising, the bill sailed through the General Assembly, receiving widespread bipartisan support in both the Senate (42 – 7) and the House (90-20).

Not everyone was thrilled with the new HB 951. Environmental and clean energy groups were split, with MountainTrue, NRDC, the Audubon Society, and the NC Sustainable Energy Association lending varying degrees of qualified support, while others asserted that the bill did not go far enough, lacked adequate protections for moderate and low-income customers, or would do little more than enrich Duke Energy’s shareholders.

While we agree with many of the concerns of the bill’s detractors, it is the position of MountainTrue that, on balance, HB 951 does far more good than bad. We commend Governor Cooper and Senator Berger for coming up with a laudable bipartisan compromise that sets aggressive clean energy goals and maintains the authority of the Utilities Commission to regulate the energy industry.

So which is it? Is the “Energy Solutions” bill a transformative climate bill or a sop to Duke Energy? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what’s in the bill, what’s not, and how it fits into the larger regulatory and legislative context.

What the Revised HB 951 Does

First, the bill supports the climate goals laid out in the Governor’s 2018 clean energy plan, Executive Order 80, by tasking state regulators with developing a plan to cut carbon emissions from energy plants by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Furthermore, because it only allows 5% of these reductions to be attained through carbon offsets, it ensures the decommissioning of the state’s remaining carbon-emitting infrastructure. But to do so, the bill contains some important caveats.

One is that the Utilities Commission is required to consider the cheapest and most reliable way to reach its carbon reduction goals. Proponents say that this could help keep costs down for customers, including low-to-moderate-income households who receive few other explicit protections within the bill. Critics worry that such a requirement could lead to the Commission approving the conversion of Duke’s existing coal-powered plants to “natural gas” or methane — a powerful greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.

Those who have fought for cleaner energy and fairer rates before the Utilities Commission know that the regulatory agency is already mandated by its charter to seek “adequate, reliable and economical utility service” through “least-cost energy planning”. In the past, this focus on cost-savings has pitted the Commission against community solar projects in the mountains in favor of larger, more economical alternatives further east.

While HB 951 doesn’t revoke the Commission’s affordability mandate, it does put it on level footing with the bill’s climate goals. This may be all that is necessary to force Duke Energy to replace its coal-powered plants with a mix of solar and wind paired with battery storage. The cost of solar panel energy generation has plummeted by 90% over the last 10 years, and the cost of energy from wind farms has dropped by 71%. Energy from wind and solar panels is now cheaper than nuclear, coal, petrol, and since 2015, yes even cheap, cheap methane (natural gas). Paired with the reliability of large-scale battery storage, the cost of renewable energy is increasingly hard to beat.

Graph source: https://www.popsci.com/story/environment/cheap-renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels/

A second important stipulation for the Commission is that it must develop its new clean energy plan through a stakeholder process. While the bill does not define who those stakeholders will be or how they will be selected, we expect environmental groups, representatives of the renewables industry, consumer advocates, and technical experts to be invited to the table. This stakeholder process should provide an important platform for climate justice advocates to secure the cleanest, fairest plan possible. And because the plan has to be reviewed every two years, there should be plenty of opportunities to right the ship should it veer off course.

The bill also decouples utilities’ profit motive from the quantity of energy they sell to residential customers and establishes performance-based ratemaking. According to the NC Sustainable Energy Association, this will allow the commission to create incentives and reward Duke Energy for creating programs or reaching goals that further equity or are socially beneficial in another manner. These could include enrolling more customers into their energy efficiency and demand-reduction programs or doing a better job contracting with minority-owned businesses.

HB 951 also contains an “on-bill tariff” program to help homeowners finance energy efficiency upgrades and pay back the up-front costs for equipment, materials, and installation through interest-free payments on their energy bills. This innovative program could enable more people, including lower and moderate-income households, to upgrade their boilers, heating and cooling systems, and other appliances in order to reduce their energy consumption and increase the values of their homes.

What the Bill Doesn’t Do

Just as important as what the bill does, is how this version differs from the one that emerged from the murky back rooms of Raleigh in July. That House version limited the Utility Commission’s authority to regulate Duke Energy and locked us into a fossil fuel future. It mandated that five of Duke Energy’s coal-fired units be retired but replaced not with solar or wind but with gas-fired plants, battery storage, or a mixture of the two. And it set criteria for the replacement of the remaining coal plant that could only be met by natural gas.

Under Governor Cooper and Senator Berger’s compromise bill, those decisions continue to rest in the hands of the Utility Commission, but the law incorporates a stakeholder process and removes the natural gas replacement mandate. The compromise bill also nixes a $50 billion subsidy for modular nuclear reactors and removes a cap on securitization. HB 951 now allows half of future coal retirement costs to be pooled together with other assets and repackaged into interest-bearing securities — a process that would save ratepayers money by passing the costs off to investors.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the original bill was a ban on the Executive Branch from considering other greenhouse gas rules. This meddling on the part of the House would have prevented the Environmental Management Commission from establishing limits on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. It would have also kept North Carolina out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a cooperative effort by 11 states from Maine to Virginia seeking to cap and reduce emissions from the power sector.

However, for all the good things accomplished in this bill and its improvements over the House version, it still comes up short for many in the environmental and climate advocacy community.

The early retirement of coal plants and the transition to clean energy will be costly. The question of who — Duke Energy’s executives and shareholders or Duke’s customers — should pay for what has been the subplot of every Utility Commission rate hike hearing for the past decade. HB 951 not only punts on that question but also fails to include protections that would ensure that low-to-moderate income customers don’t end up paying more than their fair share. The most vulnerable in our societies are most severely impacted by climate change. This bill does little to ensure that the costs associated with the transition to clean energy won’t disproportionately affect the poorest among us.

Finally, this bill will do little to challenge Duke Energy’s monopoly or curtail the energy giant from making handsome profits in North Carolina. Duke has long sought the ability to seek multi-year rate plans instead of having to go before the Utilities Commission each year. HB 951 gives them the ability to seek rate plans for up to three years, though it does cap potential rate increases to 4% for the second or third year. (For context: in May 2021, Duke Energy got permission to increase its rates for residential customers by 5.3%) And while the law opens the door to more solar and solar-plus-storage projects moving forward, it puts Duke firmly in the driver’s seat by ensuring that they maintain 55% ownership.

In Conclusion …

On balance, MountainTrue supported the compromise bill and asked our members and activists to call on the General Assembly to vote yay. It is our position that while every piece of legislation is an opportunity for action, no bill exists in a vacuum. HB 951 has its shortcomings: it’s a good climate bill but seriously lacking as a piece of climate justice legislation. Therefore, after passing HB 951, we must redouble our efforts to provide significant support for low-income energy customers — such as pressuring our legislators to pass a 2021 fiscal budget that includes the $400 million already earmarked for energy efficiency programs.

Similarly, one must consider the political context. HB 951 makes North Carolina only the second state in the Southeast to adopt enforceable climate goals. That this came forth from negotiations between a deeply divided and often Republican-controlled General Assembly and a Democratic Governor is nothing short of a miracle. Cynics might claim that corruption and collusion are behind this unlikely development. As longtime advocates on climate issues interested in movement-building, we’re hopeful that this kind of bipartisan compromise on climate is a sign of more positive things to come.

With that, we’ll leave you with some of our favorite quotes on this legislation from observers, advocates, and legislators:

Ward Lenz, Executive Director of the NC Sustainable Energy Association: “While the Senate proposed committee substitute for HB951 is not perfect, and will impact different clean energy technologies and customers in different ways, it ultimately marks an important milestone as we continue to work towards more transformational energy policies that ensure affordability and reliability for customers and deliver greater market competition.”

Andrew Hutson, Executive Director of the Audubon Society of North Carolina: “ “This bill was made better by thousands of North Carolinians who spoke up for a clean energy future. Still, the bill is by no means perfect and will require important follow-through by the Utilities Commission to deliver on its promise. There is still much work to do to address our changing climate in a way that is just and equitable. Audubon is committed to working in the coming years to make that a reality.”

NRDC in a blog post analyzing the bill: “The high-level takeaway of this legislation is that when signed into law, this legislation will make binding Governor Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan established targets of 70% reductions in power-sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. It may also signal that bipartisan progress on climate policy is possible even in conservative states.”

Governor Roy Cooper: “This bipartisan agreement sets a clean energy course for North Carolina’s future that is better for the economy, better for the environment, and better for the pocketbooks of everyday North Carolinians. I am encouraged that we have been able to reach across the aisle to find a way forward that will update our energy systems while saving people money and doing our part to slow climate change.”

Senate Leader Phil Berger: “North Carolina is a growing state, attracting businesses and families from all over. That growth depends on a stable supply of reliable and affordable energy. After months of policy negotiations, we reached an agreement that will signal to businesses and families here now or considering a move here that North Carolina’s leaders are committed to pro-growth energy policies.”

House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland: “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources while also maintaining low costs for citizens and businesses, and this bill achieves each of those goals. It is absolutely crucial for our state and for our national security that we prioritize energy independence now.”

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue: “I am proud of the work put forth in this energy bill. This legislation will put our clean energy aspirations into action. We need to continue working to protect our environment, and all ratepayers, as we move North Carolina to a clean energy future.”

House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives: “I support this compromise that helps build a resilient North Carolina that combats climate change, creates green jobs, and helps consumers and businesses have predictable, fair prices.”

Editorial Board of the Charlotte Observer: “All that said, North Carolinians should settle for this version of House Bill 951. The latest measure, trimmed from 49 to 10 pages, is better than the original. If the governor and Democrats were to reject it, the alliance of Republicans and Duke Energy might peel off enough Democrats to pass a veto-proof bill that’s worse. So we’ll take this half-loaf, which Cooper is expected to soon sign into law. Given the reactionary nature of the General Assembly’s leadership regarding the poor and the environment and Duke Energy’s love affair with fossil fuels, it’s unlikely that further negotiation will bring further improvement.”

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said on the House floor that the push to reduce carbon emissions was “all I need to know to oppose” the bill. “Simply a useless endeavor to solve an imaginary problem contrived by would-be socialist totalitarians.”

 

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

Approval of a new state budget is near the top of the North Carolina General Assembly’s To-Do list every year.

And ensuring that the budget includes investments for Western North Carolina’s natural resources is a big part of MountainTrue’s legislative agenda.

We got an early read on how our budget priorities may fare this year recently when the North Carolina Senate approved its version of the state’s new spending plan a few weeks ago. The news – so far anyway – is pretty good.

The Senate budget includes some of our top priorities, including recurring funding to maintain the state’s landslide hazard mapping efforts in our region; funding to identify and address failing septic systems that are polluting rivers and streams; and a constellation of conservation investments to restore regional waters and make them more accessible to the public.

Take Action for the Environment

We need your help to win support for much-needed funding to clean up WNC rivers and protect our environment.

Some of the more recognizable investments include $12 million for the new Pisgah View State Park in Buncombe County and $7.5 million for removal of the Big Hungry Dam on the Green River in Henderson County — one of the most expensive and long-sought dam removal projects in the state.

Our team began meeting with legislators about our budget priorities months ago, so it’s great to see some of that work pay off with funding for a number of those projects included. But we would be remiss if we did not thank the legislators who helped with this success — particularly Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County.

Edwards is one of the chairs of a key Senate appropriations committee with responsibility for natural resources investments. He’s been a strong ally of MountainTrue’s efforts to address water quality problems — including E. Coli — in our region and to find the funding for a variety of other investments.

More good news: an important open space conservation fund also gets a big boost under the Senate budget. Last year the state’s Land and Water Conservation Fund provided $21 million in grants. Under the Senate plan, the Fund would receive $73.2 million in this fiscal year and $53.2 million next year. Trust funds for farmland preservation and our state parks system also got big boosts.

While the Senate budget is a good first step, we hope that House budget writers will build on this success and fund two big-ticket items that the Senate did not. WNC urgently needs funding to help farmers pay for fencing and other “best management practices” that will keep cows and stormwater runoff out of rivers and our waters free of E. Coli. Statewide demand for these programs far outstrips the availability of these funds. Likewise, funding to help property owners and local governments upgrade septic and wastewater systems to reduce water pollution in our region are also in great demand.

These two programs need millions of dollars of new investment.

For more information about MountainTrue’s budget priorities, give this document a look (pdf).

With the budget process in Raleigh in full swing, you can help us advocate for these investments. Use the form below to thank Sen. Edwards for his help and encourage House members to build on the Senate’s investments.

Finally — on a different note — many of you have likely heard about the big energy bill now moving at the legislature. At MountainTrue, we have serious concerns about the bill in its current form and are working with many other groups to fashion a much better solution. Look for updates about this issue in an upcoming newsletter.

Thanks for being part of MountainTrue’s advocacy efforts – together, we are helping bring millions of dollars to WNC to improve water quality and expand public access to our rivers and streams.