August 5, 2015
By Eva Moore
South Carolina must cut the amount of carbon it releases into the atmosphere under new regulations handed down Aug. 3 by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nationally, the new plan calls for a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, a slightly higher bar than the 30 percent called for in a draft plan released last year.
Last year’s draft had called for South Carolina to cut its carbon emissions by a bit more than 50 percent, the third-highest target in the nation. It was unclear at press time exactly how the state’s target has changed in the final draft. (Those affected said they were still reading through the 1,560-page document.) The state’s initial target was set high because nuclear plants under construction, including two units SCE&G is building in Jenkinsville, will reduce the state’s reliance on coal power.
Carbon in the atmosphere contributes to climate change, which has dramatic environmental and economic consequences, scientists say. Here in South Carolina, rising sea levels will damage property, making the risk of storms worse and threatening the tourist economy. The Risky Business Report released last week predicts a sea level rise of 0.9 to 1.4 feet by 2050 in Charleston. A warmer climate will increase energy costs and hurt the state’s agricultural economy.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson has joined several coal-producing states in suing the Obama administration over the draft of its carbon plan. On Tuesday, he said he’s worried about the final plan.
“We have concerns that the EPA’s new carbon emissions rule under the Clean Power Plan could result in an attack on hard-working South Carolina families and businesses,” Wilson said. “We are closely studying the details of the lengthy EPA rule and continue to work with DHEC and other stakeholders to determine its exact impact on South Carolina. Our early assessment is that the rule is another example of EPA overreach. It has once again exceeded its constitutional authority by interpreting the Clean Air Act in its broadest possible terms to justify handing down this sweeping rule.”
But Wilson’s critics were ready, pointing to contributions he’s received from energy companies.
“Alan Wilson’s anti-environment, Koch-approved legal challenges have been rewarded with $37,225 in campaign support from big oil and gas companies,” said Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, in a statement.
For all the loud opposition to new carbon regulations from some quarters, the state has been quietly preparing to comply with the rule.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control — which will implement the new federal plan — along with power companies, environmental groups and others, have been meeting since 2013 to discuss the new regulations. The group submitted comments to the Obama administration on a draft of the regulations — and apparently its comments were heeded.
“From a very preliminary review of early information provided by EPA, it appears the agency listened to South Carolina stakeholders,” said Elizabeth Dieck, director of environmental affairs for the agency.
Dieck called the carbon rule “one of the most complex regulations we have yet to face.”
But environmentalists say the state is well positioned to meet the limits.
The state has already reduced carbon emissions from its electricity sector by over 30 percent since 2005, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. That’s come largely from closing coal-powered plants as they age and are replaced with other kinds of electricity generation.
A coalition of environmental groups are urging the state to encourage more renewable energy use.
“South Carolina is well-positioned to exceed the federal target by amping up the programs and initiatives we are already using across the state,” said Alan Hancock campaigns director for the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, in a statement. “Energy efficiency is the absolute cheapest source of power, but we rank 42nd in the country when it comes to using it, so there’s great opportunity there to lower people’s bills.”
One option South Carolinians are likely to hear a lot about is solar, as a new state law allowing people to lease solar panels for their homes and businesses has just gone into effect.
All the solar marketing lends some support to a prediction made by Frank Knapp, who heads up the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and supports the new carbon rule.
“The critics of government regulations have always predicted lost jobs and a harmed economy whenever a new regulation is proposed,” he said. “They have been wrong every time. Businesses know how to make money from new regulatory compliance.”