‘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.”

 

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

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.

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

4/27/2021

At MountainTrue, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about water – how to keep it clean, where and how it’s being polluted and how to clean it up.

That’s true not only home in Western North Carolina, but also in Raleigh, where clean water initiatives are always at the top of our legislative agenda.

When it comes to water pollution, E. coli is a huge part of the problem. E. coli is a type of bacteria that typically lives in the stomachs of humans and animals, and exposure to it in water can cause intestinal infection, diarrhea and even kidney failure.

Our Water Team conducts regular water quality monitoring of the French Broad, Green, Watauga, Broad, Elk, Hiwassee, New and Nottely Rivers. On the French Broad River in particular, our data showed a sharp increase in E. coli levels several years ago – but while we knew E. coli was spiking, we couldn’t say for certain where it was coming from. We needed funding to do more sensitive eDNA testing and determine the major sources of E. coli in the river.

That’s when our lobbying effort in Raleigh kicked in.

The French Broad River flows through a good portion of Senator Chuck Edwards’ district, which includes Henderson and Transylvania counties and portions of Buncombe County. Senator Edwards also chairs one of the Senate appropriations committees that deals with funding for natural resources. With his help and some effective lobbying, in 2018 the Senate included a $100,000 appropriation for water quality testing in the French Broad River.

This spring, the results of that testing made headlines across WNC: showing that the main source of E. coli in the French Broad River is agricultural runoff from cattle farms, followed by inadequate sewer, septic or wastewater treatment systems. MountainTrue shared this data to kick off a region-wide grassroots advocacy campaign to educate the public about E. coli pollution. And we’re asking our supporters to call on their elected officials to support funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments keep their pollution out of the river.

In Raleigh, we are combining this grassroots support with advocacy inside the legislative building to find more funding for clean water in Western North Carolina. We’re so appreciative of the support you and others provide to make our legislative advocacy possible. Thank you for being part of this important process!

For more information about our water testing efforts and advocacy, visit mountaintrue.org/swimguide.

Senate Budget Includes Enviro Investments. Will the House Follow?

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

MT Raleigh: Delegation Committee Assignments + Cooper Names New DEQ Sec.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, every legislator’s vote counts the same.

But not all legislators are equal.

You don’t need to be a political scientist, for example, to know that in a Republican-controlled legislature, most GOP members are going to have more influence than their Democratic colleagues. But beyond party affiliation, seniority and committee assignments can tell you a lot about who can get what done in Raleigh.

So to help you keep track of WNC’s delegation, here’s a quick rundown on some of our region’s most senior members and the gavels they wield among the legislature’s several dozen legislative committees.

Dionne Delli-Gatti

But first – some good news. Last week Governor Roy Cooper announced that Dionne Delli-Gatti will replace Michael Regan as Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality. Regan is now awaiting Senate approval of his appointment as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Delli-Gatti’s selection is welcome news for those of us concerned about clean air and water. A seasoned environmental professional, she most recently served at the Environmental Defense Fund as the Director of Southeast Climate and Energy following six years at the Atlanta EPA Regional office as Congressional and Governmental Liaison. Her environmental experience includes government service at the Ohio EPA and the City of Dallas. Kudos to Gov. Cooper for selecting Delli-Gatti, whose appointment must be confirmed by the North Carolina Senate.

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The MountainTrue Raleigh Report covers environmental politics and policy, with a focus on the issues that affect Western North Carolina.

Now let’s take a look at who is doing what on the environment and other issues among WNC’s legislative delegation.

On the environment, the conversation about WNC’s delegation has to start with Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County. Now in his third term, Edwards is the senior chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees all natural resources spending. He also co-chairs the committee that oversees most agriculture and environmental policy in North Carolina. Edwards is a proven leader and champion of several causes benefitting WNC’s environment, including being the force behind creating a new state park in Buncombe County and helping MountainTrue with several key clean water initiatives.

For depth and breadth of influence in the legislature, it would be hard to match Sen. Ralph Hise (Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties). After five terms in office, Hise is one of three co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving him a say in virtually every part of the state’s $24 billion budget. Hise’s familiarity with health policy and spending also makes him a key voice on health and human services issues.  As chair of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, he will play a central role in redrawing both legislative and Congressional districts this year.

If you have an interest in Western North Carolina public schools and universities, then get to know Senator Deanna Ballard (Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga and Wilkes counties). While just in her third term, Ballard is now the Senate’s key policymaker and appropriator on education – which easily accounts for well over half of the state’s annual spending.

With the departure of former Representative Chuck McGrady to retirement and former Rep. Josh Dobson – now North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner – WNC’s delegation in the state House lost a great deal of influence. The rest of the delegation’s lack of commensurate seniority means it will take a few years for the West to beef up its political muscle in the House. In the meantime, Rep. Tim Moffitt (Henderson County) helps lead the House ABC Committee – which oversees alcohol laws. Rep. Mike Clampitt (Haywood, Jackson and Swayne counties) chairs the House Federal Relations and American Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jake Johnson (Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties) is the co-chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Among Western North Carolina’s other legislators, members with assignments on important environmental committees include Wildlife Vice-Chair, Rep. Brian Turner (Buncombe County), and committee members Reps. Mike Clampitt, Karl Gillespie (Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties), John Ager (Buncombe County), Mark Pless (Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties) and Jake Johnson; Brian Turner and John Ager both also sit on important environmental and agriculture appropriations and policy committees; Rep. Clampitt is a member of the House Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee; Sen. Julie Mayfield (Buncombe County) is a member of the Senate’s Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Committee. Rep. Pickett is the vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee and Representatives Moffitt and Pless are members of the House Transportation Committee; Senator Julie Mayfield a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

MT Raleigh: The General Assembly’s Back In Action

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in action for its 2021 session – and MountainTrue is ready with a list of suggestions for legislators to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources.

In recent weeks, our staff have met with legislators from across the region to educate them about our 2021 legislative priorities and to hear about their To-Do lists for the session. Thanks to Senators Deanna Ballard, Chuck Edwards and Kevin Corbin, as well as Representatives Jake Johnson, Tim Moffitt, Mark Pless, Karl E. Gillespie and Ray Pickett for taking the time to meet with us. We’ll also meet with other members of the WNC delegation through the early weeks of the session.

Some of MountainTrue’s priorities for 2021 include:

Water Quality Solutions

  • Increase funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC’s waters. Allocating more money to help local Soil and Water Conservation Districts help farmers with fencing and other pollution control efforts will keep agricultural waste out of rivers and streams.
  • Address failing septic systems. Failing septic systems are another major source of bacteria. Reinstating the Wastewater Discharge Elimination (WaDE) program will help reduce this pollution. Before it was cut several years ago, WaDE visited 13,379 WNC homes and identified 2,016 sources of water pollution in WNC – mostly from leaking and failing septic systems.
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater is the third largest source of bacteria in NC’s waters. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution.  Like the cost-share program for farmers, existing CCAP funds are insufficient to meet the demand for assistance.

Improving Access and Quality of Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is a $28 billion business in North Carolina, and WNC’s outdoor industry accounts for thousands of jobs in our region. Improving access to our region’s wild places builds support for their protection and helps our economy. That’s why we support the following investments: 

  • Expanded public access and improvements to the Watauga River and French Broad River Paddle Trails 
  • Improvements to public access and trails for a popular recreational area on the Green River Game Lands in Henderson and Polk counties
  • Dam removal and improved fishing access on the Watauga River
  • Trail improvement and other investments to improve outdoor recreation on the Tuckasegee River in Swain County
  • New public access for float boats on the Valley River in Cherokee County
  • Expanded funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as well as the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (formerly known as Clean Water Management Trust Fund) to help preserve the health of critical watersheds. 

The General Assembly will now be in session every week through mid-summer. Stay tuned for updates from us on how our region’s waters, recreation spots and communities fare at the legislature in the coming months.

Speaking up for WNC’s environment in Raleigh is central to MountainTrue’s mission – that’s why we are the only WNC environmental organization with a year-round advocate in the capitol. Your support of MountainTrue is key to our success, so thank you for making our state policy work possible! 

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Two Good News Appointments, What’s Next at the General Assembly

How about a little bit of good news to start the New Year? 

In case you missed it, two of North Carolina’s environmental leaders got new, high profile jobs recently. 

First, Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) Michael S. Regan was appointed by President-Elect Joe Biden to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to leading NC DEQ, Secretary Regan led clean energy expansion programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, and also served as an air quality expert at the EPA for almost a decade. You might remember that Secretary Regan also received hundreds of public comments from MountainTrue members and our allies calling for full excavation of North Carolina’s coal ash in 2019 – a decision he ultimately ordered, resulting in the largest coal ash cleanup in US history. 

Based on today’s projected Senate runoff results, it is likely that Regan’s appointment will be approved by the Senate. His appointment to the head of the EPA is important and historic – he would be the first Black man to lead the agency and the second Black leader to ever hold this position. He would guide the agency’s efforts on two enormous tasks: restoring environmental rules and enforcements gutted by the previous administration, and advancing Biden’s goals of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035.

Additionally, Governor Cooper has appointed Reid Wilson to be Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Department oversees 39 state parks and recreation areas as well as an array of museums, historic sites and cultural organizations and agencies. 

Wilson, who previously served as the Department’s Chief Deputy Secretary, has a long history in conservation including serving as executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), chief of staff to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and national political director for the Sierra Club. 

Having two supremely qualified North Carolinians from the environmental movement at the top of these agencies should be welcome news to those of us who are concerned about the protection of our land, air and water. We’ll keep you posted on the leadership transition at NC DEQ as Governor Cooper works through the appointment process to fill the void left by Secretary Regan’s departure.

In other news, the 2021 General Assembly convenes on January 13 for a ceremonial session to swear in new members. Then, after a short break, legislators will return to Raleigh on January 27 to begin the real work of the long session. 

Here at MountainTrue we are already holding meetings with legislators throughout the region to go over our – and their – to-do lists for 2021. Look for an overview of MountainTrue’s legislative priorities soon, and thank you for your support!