By Adam Wagner
A coalition of 17 energy advocacy groups gathered Friday near North Carolina’s Executive Mansion to call on Gov. Roy Cooper to become the first U.S. governor to declare a climate emergency, a step they said could be used to prevent Duke Energy from building new natural gas plants.
Led by NC WARN, the groups called on Cooper to use powers granted to him by the N.C. Emergency Management Act. By limiting natural gas plants, they said, North Carolina would be able to limit short-term greenhouse gas increases and instead focus its efforts on building additional renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind farms.
Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide but much shorter-lasting in the atmosphere. Scientists have increasingly adopted the idea that limiting methane emissions could help achieve short-term greenhouse gas reductions that help curb the worst of the climate impacts while economies transition toward more renewable energy sources.
Jim Warren, the executive director of NC WARN, said that provisions in the recently signed state budget that give the Council of State additional oversight over states of emergency declared by the governor should not apply to an order declaring a climate emergency. Warren noted that the emergency power portions of the budget become effective in 2023 and that Cooper has pledged to challenge them in court.
Warren said, “Cooper’s got the authority. We laid out a good legal argument there, he’s got the authority to respond to emergencies and we’re saying these are repeated emergencies that are happening to these communities.”
Donna Chavis, an environmental organizer who is based in Robeson County, said that after Hurricane Matthew caused devastating flooding there in 2016, federal emergency management officials told residents it was just a matter of time before the next big storm.
Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina two years later, causing billions of dollars in damage.
“We have been lucky we haven’t had another Florence. That does not mean we won’t,” said Chavis, Friends of the Earth’s senior climate campaigner. “Like they said, it is not a matter of if but when, and so we are calling for our leaders to recognize that while we’re having thousand-year storms within two years of each other, that now is the time to declare the climate emergency.”