Derb Carter, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill office, was a student at UNC Chapel Hill when President Nixon signed the order forming the Environmental Protection Agency. At that time, he told the audience at the 20-year celebration of the Stanback Internship Program at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, all environmental legislation had bipartisan support, and protecting the environment was considered imperative not only for a sustainable economy but in its own right.
“We put a man on the moon and created the internet, but we are still burning rocks for energy,” he lamented, noting that now, we have presidential candidates who are campaigning on a platform of abolishing the EPA and a state legislature that is more concerned about bathrooms than climate change.
That line got a laugh, but the audience made up of Nicholas School students, faculty and alumni and intern-hosting nonprofits like Clean Air Carolina quickly sobered as Carter described how our state has gone “straight to the bottom” in terms of environmental protection. Cases in point: the Division of Air Quality’s proposal to exempt 1200 polluting facilities from the permitting process, 60% of which are within one mile of hospitals (see MAHA’s oped on this topic) and the legislation fast-tracking the permitting process for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As a lawyer, Carter finds it particularly galling that the Department of Environmental Quality is spending funds suing to keep the EPA from doing its job under federal law instead of enforcing those laws in N.C.
Citing statistics showing that three times more people are employed in the solar industry than in the coal industry today in the United States, 40% of U.S. energy demand can be met through rooftop solar, and solar growth is 12 times greater than the rest of the economy in the U.S., Carter reminded the audience that it was progressive policies like the renewable energy tax credit and the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) which helped make N.C. first in the southeast and third in the nation in solar capacity. The loss of the tax credit when it expired last year, coupled with neighboring states’ new policies facilitating solar installations, threaten N.C.s leadership position.
When the people lead, politicians will follow, Carter asserted, and the will of the people is to address climate change and embrace clean renewable energy technology. “Utilities like Duke Energy need to figure out how to adapt to where we’re going and not stand in the way,” he remarked.
Quoting Margaret Mead’s famous statement about a small group of committed people who change the world, Carter praised Fred and Alice Stanback’s 20 years of support for the Stanback Internship program at Duke. “I know of no-one more committed to the North Carolina environment and solar energy than Fred,” Carter declared.