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40 former EPA officials in NC join call for “new chapter of cooperation” on climate crisis instead of building scores of gas-fired power plants
A globally prominent expert on methane’s impacts on the climate is urging Governor Roy Cooper and Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good to lead a cooperative effort for North Carolina to help slow the global climate emergency. In a letter signed by 40 former EPA officials from this state, Dr. Drew Shindell said lessons from the ongoing pandemic and the cancelled Atlantic Coast fracked gas Pipeline (ACP) provide a critically important opportunity to spring forward to a more equitable and economically timely “new normal” while a return to business as usual could be disastrous.
In July, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy cancelled the proposed ACP after investing six years and $5 billion, but Duke still plans to build some 50 gas-fired generation units in the Carolinas by 2035 plus a controversial gas storage facility in Robeson County, and is considering an investment in another fracked gas pipeline construction project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Shindell, a long-time climatologist at NASA and now at Duke University, says phasing out the use of natural gas – which is mostly methane, a highly potent heat-trapping gas – is crucial to limiting global warming in the all-important near term. His long-time colleague, climatologist Jim Hansen, recently wrote that “Human-made sources [of methane] can be reduced, and indeed, must be reduced.”
The letter cites mounting evidence of methane’s key role in heating the planet while directly leading to some 25,000 air pollution deaths each year in the U.S. alone. The authors also outline to Cooper and Good how states, corporations and the power industry are shifting rapidly to renewables paired with energy storage – an approach that is beating natural gas-fired generation on cost and reliability.
“The climate crisis demands that we stop building fossil fuel infrastructure immediately,” Dr. Shindell said today. “Levels of methane in the atmosphere have hit an all-time high, and the U.S. fracking boom is an important contributor. Reducing emissions is crucial for limiting climate change and doing so can provide vital benefits in the near term, including fewer people dying from air pollution and heat waves and suffering from powerful storms and wildfires.”
Dale Evarts, a former climate and international air quality official at the U.S. EPA, said today, “Clean generation and efficient energy usage is doable and very important to customers – especially those on low and fixed incomes – because it’s less expensive and healthier for all than gas-generated power. It is also being called for across the political spectrum. We encourage Gov. Cooper and CEO Good to seize this opportunity.”
Today’s letter builds upon an appeal from last October, in which Shindell and others called for Cooper to lead a national ban against gas pipelines and power plants. A campaign launched in March by NC WARN redoubled the call for a gas ban, citing Cooper’s legal authority to stop Duke Energy’s ACP and power plants by using the N.C. Emergency Management Act for the ongoing climate crisis. It was endorsed by 70 organizations and thousands of statewide residents who contacted the Governor.
Today’s appeal to Cooper and Good reiterates Cooper’s authority to act, but suggests instead that the two leaders jointly “usher in a new era” of statewide cooperation that would avoid continuing acrimony and costly legal battles while rapidly shifting the state onto a clean, affordable and equitable path forward. It also explains that many new U.S. natural gas projects are being cancelled, thus Duke’s expansion plans pose serious economic risks for the state.
The authors praised Cooper’s administration for recently denying a crucial permit for part of the MVP that would extend into North Carolina, saying renewable energy would be better than more gas.
Kathy Kaufman, another former EPA official and co-author of the letter, said “A shift to clean energy can be both a climate solution and the job-creation engine needed to help North Carolina recover from the pandemic-fueled recession. With a record-breaking wildfire and hurricane season underway, and with many of the state’s most vulnerable people still recovering from storms of the past three years, this is the time for Gov. Cooper and CEO Good to inspire the public that we can pull together and rise to this challenge.”
While noting the positive aspects of ongoing work toward implementation of Gov. Cooper’s 2019 Clean Energy Plan, Shindell and the others emphasized that “all the worthy goals … will be outmatched by the climate impacts of a natural gas expansion.”
Jim Warren, Executive Director of NC WARN and another co-author, urged: “We have a collective moral obligation to help slow the suffering of people being battered by climate change. Duke Energy is one of the world’s largest power producers, and we need corporate leaders on the right side of history. NC WARN is keenly eager to stop fighting Duke Energy, and we urge the Governor to foster a powerful new alignment of North Carolinians willing to combine forces against the unprecedented human challenge of the climate crisis.”