Opinion: Daily Journal

Word to the GOP: Off the Enviro Bandwagon

This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Dr. Roy Cordato, John Locke Foundation Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar.

RALEIGH — Over the last decade, North Carolina has led the way among southern states in advancing the environmentalist agenda. Not only has this agenda been supported by the ruling Democratic Party, but it is clear that the GOP has also been mesmerized by the environmentalist vision. Now that Republicans control the legislature, they need to reconsider their previous positions, which are at odds with the principles of freedom and limited government that the party ran on during this year’s election.

What might be called the eco-decade for North Carolina began in 2002 when the legislature passed the Clean Smokestacks Bill (CSB), which was originally drafted as model legislation by the environmental pressure group Environmental Defense. North Carolina was the only state to adopt the bill’s extreme requirements for nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill. All but four Republican House members and one Republican Senate member voted for it. The costs, which were originally estimated to be $2.3 billion, have now swelled by almost another $1 billion, with air quality data suggesting that North Carolina’s improvements are no better than those of its neighboring states, which rejected the legislation.

Beyond tighter emission requirements, the CSB contained a section that led to the establishment of the Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPAG) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As demonstrated in a series of Carolina Journal reports, the work of this body was completely corrupted when DENR hired the Center for Climate Strategies, a left-wing environmental group, to run CAPAG operations and perform the research that guided its deliberations.

In 2005 the GA continued to push the environmentalist agenda by establishing the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change (LCGCC). The commission was dominated by environmental pressure groups and had no representatives from free-market or taxpayer organizations. Even though it was clear from the outset that the commission would be completely biased, Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the LCGCC, with 55 percent of House Republicans and almost 80 percent of Senate Republicans voting for its establishment.

Quite predictably, the commission heard testimony almost exclusively from global warming alarmists, including the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chair, Rajendra Pachauri. After he testified to the Commission, it was shown that Pachauri stood to benefit financially from the regulations he was advocating, and there have since been calls for his resignation. The LCGCC relied heavily on his testimony in its final report, even though these controversies came to light before it was submitted. Predictably, when the LCGCC finished its work, it recommended a laundry list of higher taxes and regulations. It also ignored its mandate to show how its recommendations would impact global temperatures. It thus avoided acknowledging the fact that there is nothing that the state could do that would have any impact on the climate.

The last of the environmentalist trilogy came in 2007 with the passage of Senate Bill 3 (S.B. 3). This legislation mandates that 12.5 percent of electricity should come from renewable sources (wind and solar) and includes the possibility of a maximum of 5 percent coming from reductions in energy usage. Again, among Republicans there were only five “no” votes in the House and one in the Senate. S.B. 3 passed without cost-benefit analysis and without analysis of its impact on employment or economic growth. Since S.B. 3 became law, economists from Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute estimated that it would cost the state about 3,500 jobs, $140 million in real gross state product, and $56 million in revenue to the state treasury. The impact of S.B. 3 on global temperatures will be zero.

The new Republican majority in the General Assembly needs to differentiate itself from its Democratic peers on environmental issues. This will require learning about issues through independent investigation, rather than relying on press releases from the likes of Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club.

The change can start with repeal of S.B. 3. In doing so, the new legislature would send a strong message to North Carolina’s industries and consumers that they are no longer willing to impose excessive costs on the state’s economy in pursuit of nonexistent environmental benefits. Furthermore, it would signal a rejection of the social engineering mentality that S.B. 3 and the environmental movement represent.

Second, the GOP should pledge to reject all of the recommendations of DENR’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group and the LCGCC. These proposals would stifle individual liberty and creativity, increase the cost of living, and kill economic growth.

Finally, while it is too late to do anything about the incurred costs of the CSB’s SO2 and NOx requirements, the new legislature should clarify that nothing in the bill be construed as justifying the regulation or even monitoring of CO2 emissions from any source. DENR has already suggested that the CSB gives their agency legislative authority to establish an “emissions inventory.” It is a short step from keeping track of emissions to regulating them. Indeed, Republican legislators should go even further by telling DENR that it has no authority to regulate CO2 under any existing law.

The GOP should start anew on environmental issues. Environmental pressure groups in the state and the agenda that they advance are inconsistent with the principles of freedom and free enterprise that Republicans were so proud to espouse as they were swept into office last November. Going forward, a great way to show their dedication to these principles is by examining their own past on environmental legislation and turning a new leaf.