Raleigh, N.C. — The state House Monday night approved a proposal to begin planning for new federal rules governing carbon dioxide emissions but not without a minor revolt by more ideological Republicans who said the bill is a capitulation to "tyranny."
House Bill 571 spells out what the state will do in the event that the Rule 111-d, currently in draft form, is enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule specifies that states must act to reduce carbon emissions from power plants but offers a range of possible methods for that reduction.
The bill was sponsored by Reps. Charles McGrady, R-Henderson, and Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, two House leaders who rarely agree on environmental policy. It has the support of two even more unlikely allies – Duke Energy and the Sierra Club.
The legislation authorizes the recognition of a stakeholder group to map out the state's response to the rule if it becomes law. The rule was developed from the requirements of federal Clean Air Act amendments in 1990.
McGrady told the House that, although the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources "isn't wildly enthusiastic" about the proposal, groups across the political spectrum think the state needs to have a "process in place" to react.
Without state action, McGrady warned, the state might be left to accept whatever process the EPA dictates, which may not give the state credit for the progress it's made since its passage of the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002. He said North Carolina has cut its carbon emissions substantially over the past 12 years – far more than states such as Kentucky – and should therefore be allowed to respond differently to the new regulations.
But some House Republicans, many tea party-backed, said the bill is a waste of time and money because they believe the EPA rule will be overturned by the courts.
"Why are we going to remove any kind of friction for what this administration on a federal level is doing to our citizens?" asked Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender. "I think this is a gross mistake and a very huge miscalculation."
"This is an executive order. When did the Constitution give the president the authority to make laws? It doesn’t," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Carteret. "We should be passing a resolution that says we’re not going to implement this in North Carolina."
Hager defended the bill as protective of the state's economy. "We don’t want the federal government to say, 'Here, you’ve got to do this.' We haven’t planned. We’ve just kind of let this stuff happen to us," he said.
"I consider the EPA unconstitutional in the first place. They shouldn’t exist," argued Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. "I can’t vote to prepare to live under tyranny."
"I just think it’s common sense and good practice to get out front of an issue," McGrady responded.
The bill passed 84-33 with unanimous Democratic support, but it split the Republican caucus almost evenly, with 33 voting against. It now goes to the Senate.