ost of the legislative news coming out of Raleigh in recent years has been less than sunny. Partisan battling has ground a fair amount of important work to a halt, not the least passage of a state budget.
That’s significant news, as we haven’t had a new budget since 2018. If a new budget doesn’t go into effect, necessary year-to-year adjustments generally don’t happen. The 2019 budget got sidelined by a fight over Medicaid expansion and other issues, and pretty much everything got sidelined when COVID marched into town. The state has limped along on “mini-budget” bills, but it looks like we’ll see the real deal this year.
Another accomplishment: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have cut a deal on a new energy bill for the state that aims to reduce carbon emissions drastically, boost renewable energy and retire some coal-fired energy plants.
While critics say the plan doesn’t go far enough and had too much input from utilities, it’s at least forward motion, which is better than none at all.
And now is better than later. The weather’s getting warmer, and it’s definitely getting wilder, and that’s driven by human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels.
We’re a creative, energetic species, but some folks still think our impact on the planet is negligible. There’s plenty of evidence that it isn’t; one example might be the 3 billion passenger pigeons that called this continent home when European settlers arrived. They were wiped out essentially in one human lifetime, aided by hunting that took advantage of technological advances like the train and telegraph. By 1900 none were left in the wild, and the last one in captivity died in 1914.
So, humans can make change, and not all of those changes are good.
And a lot of them are getting more and more expensive. Down east in this state, the Lumbee River overflowed onto Interstate 95 in Lumberton in 2016, shutting down the main north-south artery on the East Coast after heavy rains from Hurricane Matthew. Hurricane Florence came along two years later and repeated the event. State engineers are raising and rebuilding an eight-mile stretch of the road to hopefully prevent yet another such incident. The price tag for those eight miles is around half a billion dollars.
There are monetary prices for such projects all over the place, hoping to stave off the effects of “100-year storms” that it seems like we’re experiencing every seven or eight years.
So a cleaner energy plan makes economic sense in helping stave off economic storm damage. It can also hopefully help stave off more subtle economic damage that we could experience here in Jackson County – our Christmas tree industry can only stand so much more warming. Ditto our trout fishing industry.
Change is coming. More power from wind, from the sun are on the way. As long as the lights come on when the switch is thrown, most of us won’t really notice. Perhaps, some day down the road, we’ll notice the storms aren’t quite as severe, that summer doesn’t hang on as long as it once did, and that legislation crafted in 2021 helped us down that path.
But probably not. We have short memories. Few remember how bad the air quality in these mountains was 30-some years ago, with frequent health warnings a common occurrence. A group of environmentalists, business leaders and strong leadership from mountain legislators led to the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, which saw coal-fired plants cleaned up in North Carolina. That gave leverage for the state to put pressure on the Tennessee Valley Authority to clean up its act, and the views, business outlook and health outlook in this area is all much better for it.
Here’s hoping this pending legislation can be a welcome repeat.