North Carolina climate action

NC action on climate change

North Carolina took important first steps towards tackling climate change when the General Assembly enacted bipartisan legislation that requires steep cuts in heat-trapping carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants and a state environmental commission voted to develop a rule that will achieve those reductions. North Carolinians increasingly feel the impacts of climate change from flooding, slower storms that drop more rain, rising sea levels that are harming coastal areas, and warmer and more humid days and nightsScientists warn of more dire consequences for North Carolina’s economy, environment and our people— especially communities that have disproportionately borne the brunt of environmental harms—if we don’t reduce carbon pollution quickly. 

North Carolina Carbon Plan

The new law tasks the North Carolina Utilities Commission with development of a plan to meet its carbon-reduction requirements. SELC is advocating for a plan that lays out a no-regrets pathway relying on clean, cost-effective resources like energy efficiency, solar, wind, and battery storage; rapidly phasing out dirty fossil fuels; and avoiding new gas that would lock us into decades more dependence on fossil fuels and more carbon pollution. The commission will issue the Carbon Plan at the end of 2022.

Regional carbon reduction efforts

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is developing a rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants at the direction of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission which granted a rulemaking petition submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of CleanAIRE NC and the N.C. Coastal Federation. The rule under development outlines a proven, cost-effective approach in which North Carolina would set a declining limit on carbon pollution and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a successful effort by states from New England south through Virginia. Members of the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal.

Businesses and entrepreneurs, 25 environmental and clean energy organizations, 39 state representatives and 22 senators from across North Carolina joined youth activists in supporting this N.C. action to address climate change. 

Given the threat of climate change to our state, North Carolina needs to do its part to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution from power plants. Whether we act now or delay determines our future as well as the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.

Gudrun Thompson, SELC senior attorney and energy efficiency regional leader

How RGGI works

If the state joins the regional effort and a N.C. power plant emits carbon dioxide, the plant’s owner would have to pay for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution it produces. Allowances can be bought and sold in a regional auction, which helps to keep costs down. The number of available allowances is reduced over time to reduce pollution. 

Check out our Frequently Asked Questions for more details.

Health benefits

States already participating in the regional effort saw carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector drop 47% over the last decade as well as fewer premature deaths, hospital visits, and lost work or school days, associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, strokes, and heart attacks. 

Independent study

A recent report by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, commissioned by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, found such a policy to be a highly cost-effective approach to help North Carolina meet its carbon-reduction goals by reducing electricity generation from dirty coal-fired power plants.   

It is a proven policy option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions consistent with Governor Cooper’s Executive Order No. 80 and the Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Energy Plan, which sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 70% by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Additional resources

Watch these videos showing how climate change is affecting the lives of ordinary North Carolinians in their own voices.

Letters of Support