Local groups join call for state climate emergency declaration

Press release from NC Warn:

More than 70 youth, social justice, clean energy and faith groups, among others, today called on North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to join more than 1,400 local and national governments by formally declaring a climate emergency. The top target of their letter and a statewide campaign escalation is a giant expansion of fracked natural gas projects that Duke Energy is building or planning, and which leading climate experts are urging Cooper to cancel.

At a press conference today in Raleigh, speakers from youth groups and communities hit by repeated hurricanes and targeted by Duke’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) urged the Governor to use his Emergency Management Act authority to help prevent continuing pain – by halting the expansion of gas, a leading cause of accelerating climate chaos – rather than just responding to ongoing disasters.

The statewide mobilization is being backed by an extended NC WARN ad campaign using conventional and digital media, to build support for Cooper to declare the emergency and help stop it. A print ad features a stunning painting by acclaimed artist and North Carolina native, Jennifer E. Miller.

Jorden Revels, a UNC-Pembroke student, member of the Lumbee Tribe and a fellow with Friends of the Earth, said today, “Leading scientists are calling for the governor to stop Duke Energy’s gas expansion, and the young people of this state are backing the science.” His home is in Robeson County, which has one of the largest populations of Native Americans in the state, is one of the poorest counties in the nation – and is being targeted by Duke Energy with both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a facility that would store large amounts of liquefied natural gas. “We’re seeking Governor Cooper’s leadership to halt this climate injustice,” Revels added.

Madeline Parker, a youth organizer with NC WARN, said today, “We appreciate that the Governor is concerned about climate disruption. However, all of his efforts will be outmatched if Duke Energy keeps expanding the use of climate- and community-wrecking fracked gas.”

In October, Duke University climate expert Drew Shindell and 27 former EPA officials called on Cooper to lead a national ban against new gas projects. NC WARN says that a new study published in the British journal Nature has dramatically amplified evidence that Duke Energy’s gas expansion is making the climate emergency worse. Cooper would be the first U.S. governor to formally declare a climate emergency, joining more than 1,400 local and national governments in 28 countries.

Donna Chavis of the RedTailed Hawk Collective, who is also Lumbee, remarked today that “it feels like much of eastern North Carolina has been stuck in a constant state of emergency and recovery due to multiple record-breaking hurricanes. Can you imagine what it feels like to hear scientists warn that it’s going to get even worse?” Chavis, a longtime leading voice on environmental injustices, also said, “The irony is profound: Duke Energy is targeting Robeson County with even more of the fracked gas that is making the storms worse!”

Elijah King, a student at Riverside High and member of Youth Climate Conversations, explained the frustration of many young people: “One of the first steps of good leadership is to protect the interests of the people, all people. This includes young people, who are not only the future, but essentially the backbone of our society. We are asking Governor Cooper to fight the fight to assert authority over Duke Energy, a state sanctioned monopoly that has gone too far for too long.”

In the letter, the 72 organizations told Cooper that renewable power paired with energy storage is now beating new gas-fired plants on economics and reliability, and that this approach creates far more jobs than new gas projects while avoiding the local health and safety impacts associated with natural gas.

Duke Energy plans to get only 8% of its electricity from renewables 15 years from now but plans to build the equivalent of 30 large gas-fired power plants.

The groups say Cooper has broad authority to declare a State of Emergency as a result of the ongoing crisis posed by repeated hurricanes and other catastrophic flooding events, and that doing so would empower him to prohibit the further construction or expansion of natural gas-fired power plants, pipelines, storage facilities and a controversial compressor station in Northampton County.

Today’s letter to the Governor states, “While the Act has traditionally been used to respond to disasters, it is not restricted to those occasions and, in fact, allows you to help prevent disasters – particularly when they have become essentially ongoing in nature. With so many North Carolinians still recovering from multiple hurricanes and other flooding, with the strong likelihood of worse disasters ahead, and with the science linking such disasters to the use of fossil fuels, we contend that ’coping’ with this ongoing emergency includes the authority to help prevent it from growing worse indefinitely.”

NC WARN anticipates criticism from some Cooper allies, but the watchdog group says climate urgency demands the Governor’s action now. His first term is up in 10 months, though he’s seeking reelection. Also, they say his preventing Duke from resuming construction of the long-stalled ACP would save North Carolina electricity customers $20 billion, and that polling by Conservatives for Clean Energy shows wide support for renewable energy among both Democratic and Republican voters.

Cooper told WRAL in October that a moratorium on natural gas projects should be considered. Last week, Morgan Stanley analysts warned, “We believe this project [the ACP] will not move forward due to legal risks …” while suggesting that utilities should quickly move straight from coal to cheaper renewables.

NC WARN’s Parker added, “The ACP is facing serious trouble and market forces are strongly shifting away from gas, so now is the perfect time for Gov. Cooper to do what’s right here – either with or without Duke Energy’s cooperation. The Governor ought to use his political position to highlight to the People of North Carolina the disastrous impacts of gas and the magnitude of the climate emergency. We believe he’s a leader who will take this opportunity to rise above harmful ‘business as usual’ thinking and protocol.”

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