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"Of all the questions which can come before this nation, there is none which compares in importance with the central task of leaving this land better land for our descendants than it is for us. Conservation is a great moral issue." ~ Teddy Roosevelt
The care with which we steward the natural resources that sustain us says a lot about who we are as a society. Decisions impacting the air we breathe, water we drink, and land that nourishes our bodies and spirits will have lasting impacts long beyond our lifespans. North Carolina has a long history of environmental leadership, but in recent years Republicans at the federal and state level have taken us in the wrong direction by abandoning partnerships essential to combating climate change and jeopardizing our edge in clean energy technology. Strong, thoughtful leadership is imperative to counter this disturbing trend and restore the innovation, care, and growth that has so long characterized North Carolina’s environmental policy.
As legislators, we should look out for our State’s economy and our natural resources. We should do both while making sure polluters cannot pursue maximum profits while they wreak havoc with impunity. If we get this wrong, the risks are enormous with devastating consequences, both immediate and long-term. The massive Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Huntersville has illustrated the disasters that have happened and will continue to happen if we do not act proactively to protect our environment and move to renewable energy sources. The spill is the largest of its kind in the US since 1968, and the largest in NC history, with current estimates at over 1.3 million gallons spilled. Aging pipelines like this one need safer repairs and better monitoring. North Carolina has a duty to protect its citizens and its environment from damage like this. That is why I introduced Senate Bill 549, Improve Pipeline Safety, to ensure that NC takes an active role in improving and monitoring the pipelines that run through our state. In May of 2021, I discussed the importance of this bill with experts from the Pipeline Safety Trust, the NC Department of Environmental Quality, and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at a national conference about pipeline safety. A recording of the conference can be viewed here.
Our own Catawba River, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie are vital assets, and we must be vigilant about protecting them. Preservation of our natural resources and the protection of our environment preserves our quality of life, our economic growth, and our health. To that end, I support sound environmental policy built on four pillars:
Past environmental policies in line with these principles benefited North Carolinians immensely. By establishing ourselves as an innovative leader in clean energy in 2007 with smart policies such as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS), North Carolina has created more than 34,000 new clean energy jobs and rocketed to third in the nation for solar energy production behind Texas and California. I support Governor Cooper’s fight to protect the North Carolina coast from offshore oil drilling. Governor Cooper is also wise to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, seventeen states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80, which lays out a series of emission reductions goals, has put the state on the right path towards emissions reductions. NC's Clean Energy Plan sets forth how we can transition to a clean energy future. We need to support similar sound energy policies that serve long-term emission reduction goals and also protect our water, air and land for each North Carolinian today and in the future.
Our state is well positioned to be a leader in solar and wind technologies, yet when the GOP took over the NCGA, they reduced incentives for solar energy and placed a moratorium on wind energy. Fortunately, as we saw with the innovative adoption of REPS in 2007, we do not need to choose between a strong economy and smart environmental policies. Our decision to be a leader on solar has provided a huge payoff all these years later. In fact, clean energy has already generated about $28.2 billion in economic activity statewide from 2007-2018, while our state’s natural beauty drove a $19.96 billion tourist industry during 2020. It’s not either/or - we should choose both. Smart environmental policies are smart economic policies.
The Biden Administration is poised to make the largest investment in clean energy research and innovation ever. North Carolina can capitalize on this by encouraging collaboration between the public and private sectors to seek and develop new sources of renewable energy. We are particularly well positioned to take advantage of wind energy off our coast. Investing in off-shore wind energy production would activate North Carolina’s important manufacturing and maritime sectors and create thousands of new jobs across the state. We must take this opportunity now or North Carolinians will lose out on the contracts and investments surrounding wind development.
As demand for renewable energy rises, the state must allow North Carolinians the freedom to choose renewable energy as well as the resources to make informed choices on their energy use. Finally, North Carolina must update and extend its innovative REPS policy to protect the sustainability of both our environment and our economy.
During my time in the North Carolina Senate, I have sponsored many bills to protect our environment and our citizens on a wide array of issues. I have been an outspoken advocate for sustainability and environmental responsibility and against bills that would put our environment at risk. A list of my bills related to environmental issues:
Elected leaders bear great responsibility to ensure that North Carolina’s natural resources support the health and well-being of our citizens and that our economy is one that looks forward rather than backward. As your State Senator, I view this responsibility as both an exciting opportunity and a moral imperative.