One of the most striking things about America’s climate change deniers is the absolute, near-messianic certainty that they bring to the debate. It’s almost as if they have adopted the zero-gray-area Second Amendment fundamentalism of the National Rifle Association and are aggressively applying it to the question of how we best secure the long-term health and wellbeing of the human species.
Perhaps it’s a mental health self-defense mechanism. After all, if you were NRA boss Wayne LaPierre or the CEO of a company that makes assault weapons for the distribution in the U.S. “market,” how else would you sleep at night unless you’d convinced yourself that your mission was akin to a holy crusade?
So it must be, one presumes, for the climate change deniers in the McCrory administration and the Koch Brother-funded think tanks that propagandize incessantly about the “myth” of global warming and deride environmental advocates as “climate change alarmists.” No amount of mere greed and cynicism could possibly suffice to explain such behavior. If one of the key missions in your professional life is to prevent the adoption and enforcement of policies that an overwhelming majority of scientists believe are critical to preserving something akin to life on Earth as we know it, you must be pretty darned sure of yourself.
North Carolina’s resistance of the Clean Power Plan
Exhibit “A” in North Carolina right now when it comes to this kind of passionate and inexplicable behavior on the existential question of climate change is the McCrory administration’s tooth-and-nail resistance of the federal government’s Clean Power Plan (also known as the “CPP”).
The Clean Power Plan is a modest and likely inadequate beginning step by the federal government to begin to rein in our nation’s destructive production of carbon pollution (aka “greenhouse gases”). And, of course, the almost indisputable fact of the matter is that humans are drowning themselves in this stuff. Unless we get a handle on the crisis and soon, the impact on our planet could well be catastrophic over the course of the next century.
(It should be noted at this point, that none of this is an absolute sure thing. There are many uncertainties and gray areas in the science and even more when it comes to the specifics of the impact of rising global temperatures over time. That said; if the dire analyses and predictions are anywhere close to correct, humans could be confronting the greatest calamity in the history of the species.)
Amazingly, however, despite all of the evidence and the frightening magnitude of the risk, the McCrory administration is doing everything it can to combat the Clean Power Plan. It has even joined a group of conservative-led states trying to challenge the federal EPA’s authority to issue the plan in the first place. What’s more, this is occurring in spite of the fact that actions taken by previous North Carolina governors and General Assemblies prior to the rise of the current GOP leadership had already placed North Carolina on a path to compliance with essentially no further action!
Did you get that? Not only do conservative opponents want to torpedo the CPP, they want to free the state up to backtrack and make laws and policies potentially even weaker and more inadequate than they already are.
The debate is joined over draft rules
Right now, the battle over this issue in North Carolina revolves around rules that the McCrory administration has proposed for “complying” with the federal plan. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the proposal is mostly a charade.
As N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey highlighted last November, the administration is less interested in genuinely trying to comply and much more interested in setting up a straw man to bolster the court fight it is waging:
“North Carolina apparently wants to be the first to present a plan for rejection so it can square off against the federal agency in court, turning an opportunity to further reduce carbon emissions and expand the state’s renewable energy portfolio into a politicized turf war instead.”
And this is from a letter submitted by a consortium of more than 20 of the state’s leading environmental policy experts and advocates last Friday with respect the draft state rule:
“First, the Draft Rule inadequately and insufficiently proposes only emission rate controls on fossil fuel-powered stationary electric generating units (EGU’s). By taking this limited “inside-the-fenceline” approach, DEQ will prevent North Carolina from meeting its emission reduction targets, which are needed to protect the state’s citizens’ environment and economy. An inadequate and insufficient approach, as outlined in the Draft Rule, will expose North Carolina’s citizens, environment and economy to undue harm.
Second, the Draft Rule entirely ignores the Clean Power Plan’s requirement to engage in a robust stakeholder process prior to the development of a state plan. As the Environmental Management Commission and DEQ expressly stated when deciding to send the Draft Rule to public comment, the Draft Rule is nothing more than a pretext for a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan.
Third, it exposes North Carolina unnecessarily to pollution and risks associated with greenhouse gas emissions that will not be curbed as a result of its intentional noncompliance, risking irreversible and expensive environmental damage. The longer North Carolina waits to take action on climate change the more expensive and damaging it will be.
Fourth, the Draft Rule deprives North Carolina workers and companies of jobs and new business, because of the loss of a host of clean energy production opportunities that would be associated with a fully compliant rule. Unlike coal, the clean energy industry is a growth industry providing unbounded economic and job opportunities.
Finally, the current Draft Rule makes North Carolina susceptible to a prolonged review process, thereby wasting finite staff and budgetary resources to wrangle with EPA, and ultimately could deprive the state of its ability to develop and control its own emission reduction strategy. This is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars.”
A joint letter from the North Carolina Justice Center (the parent organization of NC Policy Watch) and the North Carolina Council of Churches makes the additional point that the administration plan fails to seize the opportunity presented by the CPP to help combat poverty and high energy costs through expanded weatherization, affordable housing and the creation of thousands of “green” jobs – a need made all the more essential and urgent by the fact that climate and energy issues tend to hit poor people hardest.
A sadly familiar excuse
The justifications advanced by Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart for the McCrory administration’s resistance of the CPP smack heavily of manufactured, after-the-fact pretexts. “It’s not the interests of fossil fuel polluters and global warming deniers the administration is seeking to vindicate,” go the talking points, “it’s ‘states’ rights,’” the supposed need to resist “an overbearing federal bureaucracy” and, almost laughably, their “concern” for poor people.
In sum, the excuses sound an awful lot like those voiced by opponents of integration, marriage equality, smoking regulations and, yes, sane gun regulations. Faced with a fast-growing national momentum to do something about an enormous societal problem, a core of true believers who feel threatened by the coming change is doing whatever it can and voicing whatever argument it can muster in an effort to delay the inevitable and validate its fears.
The good news in all of this, of course, is that the obstructionists are doomed, ultimately, to failure. The bad – even tragic – news is that, like so many others of their ilk, they’re likely to do a tremendous amount of more damage before they give way.
Rob Schofield is the Director of Research for N.C. Policy Watch