Currently, no municipalities or counties in North Carolina directly attempt to regulate greenhouse gases. And a bill that stalled in a Senate committee today would ensure they never do.
Senate bill 171 would block municipalities from creating any “rule or ordinance that regulates greenhouse gas emissions or limits human activity for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
While that language seems clear enough, it’s deeply unclear exactly what this bill would impact.
For instance, some municipalities have measures that regulate “energy efficiency” but don’t directly reference greenhouse gas. One such ordinance in Chapel Hill requires developers who want to rezone a building to make that building 20 percent more energy efficient.
In mid-February, Raleigh’s City Council agreed to craft measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the capital city. However, the council didn’t put a time line on creating the new rules, which aren’t yet in place.
Several other cities including Durham already encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases in the community through goals and incentives. However, they don’t make reducing greenhouse gases obligatory.
In its current langauge, the bill presumably wouldn’t effect such measures.
Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill also have internal policies that limit the use of greenhouse gases by the city governments, themselves. Chapel Hill’s is the most ambitious policy and seeks to cut the use of greenhouse gases by 60 percent by 2050.
Cities could keep those internal programs as long as they refer to them as policies, rather than a “rule or ordinance,” according to one legislative aide who has worked on the bill.
The bill stalled at the request of one of its co-sponsors, Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Johnston).
“When it comes to regulations, most think we’re overregulated to start with,” says Jackson.
But Jackson is also conflicted. While he doesn’t want to see additional greenhouse gas restrictions in North Carolina, he is wary of telling local governments what to do—a political faux pas for Republicans who claim to support small government.
North Carolina Sierra Club director Molly Diggins calls the bill in its current form “yet another anti-science, anti-local control measure.”
However, officials in Jackson’s office say the bill is likely to undergo significant changes before it reemerges in committee.