First Commercial-Scale NC Wind Farm Moves Forward

Plans for the Desert Wind Energy Project, a 300-megawatt wind energy farm in North Carolina, have moved into the next phase after the proposal saw little public opposition. Previous proposals for wind turbine construction have been strongly opposed, but the Desert Wind Energy Project is planned for  sparsely populated farmland, rather than tourist destinations. The wind farm now awaits permit from several government agencies.

The $600 million Desert Wind Energy Project near Elizabeth City in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties would be the state’s first commercial-scale wind farm and one of the biggest in the nation. It would generate enough electricity to power between 55,000 and 70,000 homes.

Read more:



Major Triangle Energy Provider Moving Forward

As one of the premier regions for research and innovation in North Carolina, hence the name “Research Triangle Park,” the Triangle area is making new strides in the way of energy use. The following article from yesterday provides a a hopeful glance into the future…check it out!

Q&A with science historian Dr. Naomi Oreskes about “Merchants of Doubt”

Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at UC-San Diego, is one of the world’s leading historians of science. Her research focuses on consensus and dissent in science, highlighting the disconnect between the state of scientific debate and the way it is presented in mass media and perceived by the American people. Her 2004 essay “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” was a landmark in the public debate on global warming. In their new book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and fellow historian Erik Conway explain how a loose–knit group of high-level scientists with extensive political connections have run effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over the past four decades. Addressing the dangers posed by tobacco, DDT, the ozone hole, acid rain and global warming, Oreskes uncovers a dark corner of the American scientific community that has skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

Before delivering the Michael Polanyi Lecture in the History and Philosophy of Natural Science at UNC-Chapel Hill on March 30, sophomore Stewart Boss sat down with Oreskes to discuss her new book and the significance of scientists who manufacture doubt to manipulate American politics.

Q: How are the dangers of tobacco, DDT, the ozone hole, acid rain and global climate change all related? How did this group of dissenting scientists evolve into what it is today?

A: Well that was, in a way, the question we posed when we first discovered this. We thought it seemed, in a way, strange, because on the face of it these are really different issues, especially like tobacco versus global warming – totally different science, totally different scientific expertise that you would need to be able to understand these issues. What we came to understand through the research was that it was really about regulation and the role of government. In every single case, the issue at stake was really whether or not the government should intervene to regulate dangerous products. In each case, these people thought the answer to that question was ‘no,’ that if we allowed government to intervene then it would lead to expansion of tyrannical and oppressive government, and therefore they opposed regulation. But they didn’t just honestly oppose regulation and say, “Look, I’m worried about encroachment of the government on my personal rights.” Instead, they shifted the issue to the science, to say we really don’t know about the science, because what they knew and what they had learned through the tobacco industry was that the most effective way to avoid regulation was not to fight it head-on and say, “No, we don’t want to be regulated.” The most effective way was to undermine the science, because lots of studies showed, and they did market research to support this, that if people thought the science was unsettled, then people would think it would be premature for the government to regulate the product. So the whole strategy was to challenge the science in order to avoid regulation.

Q:  In your book you quote one tobacco executive saying, “Doubt is our product.” What are the implications for the role that science plays in our democracy?

A: So that’s part of the whole point of the book, is to help people understand that. So the strategy was a conscious and deliberate strategy to sow doubt in order to make people think that we didn’t really know for sure and therefore it would be inappropriate for the government to regulate the product. And that’s the strategy that they use over and over again. So it’s really important for the public to understand this, to know that if you hear somebody saying, “Oh, well, we don’t really know, the science is not really settled, there’s a lot of questions about it,” then a little antenna should go up that this might be a doubt-mongering campaign designed to undermine the science to avoid action.

Q: Who are the major players right now in this effort to deny scientific consensus?

A: In the book, we were trying to track the whole denial campaign to its origins, and we tracked a very significant part of the campaign to this one particular think tank, the George C. Marshall Institute, which was founded by three physicists in 1984: Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg and Frederick Seitz. They created the Marshall Institute originally to defend “Star Wars,” the Strategic Defense Initiative, but then moved into these other areas. And of course, that was part of the story too — why would people who believed in a strong defense as part of the Cold War defense against the Soviet Union, why would those people become anti-environmentalists? And so the answer to that question is that when the Cold War ended, they had to find a new enemy, and the new enemy were the “reds under the bed,” and those “reds” were environmentalists, who they saw as “watermelons” — green on the outside, red on the inside — and they thought that environmentalism was a kind of slippery slope to socialism that would lead to increasing government encroachment. And these are men, you have to realize, who have dedicated their whole lives to fighting the Cold War. These men were already in their 70s by the time this took place, and previous to that they had worked on all kinds of different Cold War weapons and rocketry and space programs. So their whole life meaning is really tied up in fighting this Soviet threat and preserving Western democracy, and they can’t give that up, even after the Soviet Union is gone.

Q:  Many politicians were firmly committed to seeing climate and energy legislation passed in the 111th Congress, but the failure to realize that goal in 2010 seems to have dissolved support for serious action on climate change. Did the environmental movement underestimate its opposition? In your opinion, what went wrong?

A: Everything. One of the things Bill McKibben said about our book is that it explains the paradox that is the science has gotten stronger, but the opposition has gotten stronger too. But I actually don’t think it’s a paradox, I think it’s actually what we should have expected because so much is at stake. I don’t know if environmentalists were naïve, but I think scientists were really naïve. Scientists thought if they just explained it clearly and they just got politicians to understand what was at stake, then of course politicians would act. They could have taken Political Science 101 and known that wasn’t true. This is a huge issue, right? The entire economy of the world rests on burning fossil fuels, so we have to take that very seriously and realize there’s going to be enormous opposition. I think we have underestimated the power and the strength of the opposition. And then combine that with the general inertia of people. This story isn’t just about the fossil fuel industry, although of course they play an important role, but it’s also about all of us, about how none of us want to be told that the way we live is bad, nobody wants to be told, “You’re a bad, evil person because you drive a car.” We need an exit strategy, we need a plan for what it looks like going forward, and I don’t think we’ve been very effective in that. I think we’ve spent too much time focusing on the science and fighting back against these doubt-mongering campaigns when what we should have just said is: “Look, we know the science. The real question is, what does the energy profile for the future look like, and how do we get there?”

Merchants of Doubt

GOP wants to downsize state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources

DENR is North Carolina's chief regulator for air, land and water quality.

Please check out the front-page article in The News & Observer about Republican efforts in North Carolina to dismantle DENR.

“I’d like to see DENR downsized,” said Sen. Don East, a Republican from Pilot Mountain and co-chairman of the budget committee that controls DENR’s purse strings. “I’d like to see them be a kinder, gentler agency. I’d like to see DENR be a help, not a hindrance to business and industry.”

The Republican push is likely to win some backing in the business community, but it has caused concern among environmentalists and their allies.

“What I perceive is a generalized attack on all parts of DENR,” said Joe Hackney of Chapel Hill, the House Democratic leader, who has longtime ties to the environmental movement. “There are some people who want to dismantle it and reduce it to little or nothing. There are others who want to neuter its regulatory side, which the public will not like. The public places a high value on clean water and clean air.”

Environmental regulation has long been a target of conservatives, particularly in Washington, where Republicans often portray the Environmental Protection Agency as overreaching.

…Hackney said DENR has done a good job of running the federal environmental programs that are delegated to the states. If the state programs are cut too much, the federal government will end up taking over the program, and people will have to go to the regional EPA office in Atlanta for permits.

“That is not good for business in North Carolina,” Hackney said. “I just hope any review will be done thoughtfully and the governor will resist any unwise changes.”

Read the full article here:

A similar article in The Carrboro Citizen delved even deeper, commenting on and analyzing the dramatic severity of the GOP’s intentions to pick apart DENR.

Legislators and locally based environmental advocates say what’s being contemplated isn’t just the result of budget cuts, but represents the overturning of long-term polices and even the potential dismantling of the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the state’s chief regulator for air, land and water quality.

“There’s no question that the environment is in the crosshairs,” said John Runkle, an environmental lawyer from Chapel Hill.

Runkle said it’s not just a case of overturning a few rules or shifting funds.

“I think there’s a systematic effort to destroy all environmental efforts and all environmental agencies,” he said.

It’s a change in direction that Runkle said is growing more alarming as more details emerge.

“It’s worse than anybody expected. They’ve gone beyond what industry was asking for,” he said.

Derb Carter, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said many of the changes he and others have heard might be coming are starting to surface.

“The approach seems to be to defund and dismantle DENR,” he said.

One indication is in the target that budget writers have been given. In her budget, Gov. Beverly Perdue took a solid whack at DENR programs herself, paring the budget from a base of $480 million to $407 million. But the GOP leadership’s budget target given to the appropriations committee that handles DENR’s budget cuts even deeper, to $323 million – a reduction of almost exactly one-third.

“Everyone recognizes the financial challenge that has to be met,” Carter said, “but the cuts targeted for environmental programs in DENR are disproportionate.”

Read the full article here:

Tell your state legislators that they need to do everything in their power to protect DENR and North Carolina’s environment. Environmental protection is good for the economy and for jobs in our state!


NC’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard being targeted

Great article in The Independent Weekly about efforts by Art Pope and the John Locke Foundation to repeal Senate Bill 3, a law that the General Assembly passed in 2007 establishing North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, or REPS, which sets minimum requirements for electric utilities’ use of renewable sources of power.

Illustration by V.C. Rogers

Repealing SB3 is near the top of the agenda for the John Locke Foundation, despite the fact that environmental groups think that the 12.5 percent renewables by 2020 requirement is already too weak and utility companies are opposed to changes in the law.

And it’s not only North Carolina environmental groups that have been unreceptive to Locke’s anti-science message. The state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Progress Energy and Duke Energy, have acknowledged the reality of global warming and taken steps to comply with SB3’s standards. They don’t want to see those efforts upended now that they’ve entered into long-term contracts with renewable energy providers.

“We would not support such a quick reversal in public policy,” Progress Energy spokesperson Mike Hughes says. “Policy that involves significant investments, such as renewable energy, should be focused on the long term. An abrupt change would be very disruptive to the development of viable renewable energy projects in the state.”

Building North Carolina’s clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the middle of a recession makes SB3 essential for leading the state forward. With a number of bad bills working their way through the General Assembly, North Carolinians need to defend SB3 more enthusiastically than ever before.

Preventing Agencies from Protecting North Carolinians

Check out this awesome blog post from NC Sierra Club’s Will Morgan on three reasons why SB 22 is dangerous for North Carolinians:

(1) The bill will prevent agencies from adopting new rules to protect public health, welfare, and the environment
(2) In attempting to fix a system that isn’t broken, the bill will actually create new problems
(3) The bill’s premise that North Carolina’s regulatory system is stifling business is unfounded

Read more:

Also, a video interview with Tom Bean from NC Wildlife Federation expressing concern about this bill moving forward.

Watch out for SB 22!

A new bill has been introduced in the North Carolina Senate that would block any new environmental law in which compliance would involve a cost.

You can read Ned Barnett’s story in the North Carolina Independent News here.

Here’s the NC League of Conservation Voters’ response:

A new rule could be projected to save a hundred million dollars in avoided environmental damages or human illness, and be blocked because it cost one person ten bucks. Unfortunately, this example of anti-environmental policy is no longer a fringe position in the new N.C. General Assembly. SB 22 has 22 co-sponsors, nearly a majority of the Senate right there. … Clearly, conservationists are going to have our hands full fighting for our natural resources and public health this year.

You can check the bill’s status on the General Assembly website here.

This is a sweeping law with potentially enormous implications for North Carolina’s environment. Stay updated as this develops.