Where the 2016 Candidates Stand on Energy Issues: NC Attorney General Roy Cooper

This post is the final in a series of blogs examining where 2016 candidates for President or Governor of North Carolina stand on key energy issues.  Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools. SACE’s Jennifer Weiss and Adam Reaves contributed to this blog.

North Carolina has a reputation of being a leader in clean energy throughout the Southeast thanks to several forward-thinking policies, such as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) that was signed into law in 2007. North Carolina is still the only Southeastern state to have this type of policy, which requires utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from clean, renewable sources. Despite attempts by opponents to repeal the law in recent years, REPS has been a driving force behind NC’s $7 billion clean energy industry and its 26,000+ jobs without significantly affecting costs to consumers.

Leadership from a state’s governor is critical to setting the tone for energy policies, and this blog series aims to inform voters on the policy stances regarding energy and climate issues that face North Carolina. We encourage North Carolina voters to tune into the final debate between Governor Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper tonight (Oct. 11) at 7 p.m. ET. Go here for more info on this debate.

First we evaluated current North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, who is running for re-election this November.  In today’s blog, we examine the policies and positions of his opponent, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Since 2000, Mr. Cooper has served as State Attorney General for North Carolina, and before that he served in both the North Carolina State House and State Senate as well as in private law practice.

Cooper and Climate Change

In his role as Attorney General, Mr. Cooper advised against joining a challenge to the federal Clean Power Plan, which directs states to develop plans to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. Cooper noted that challenging the plan “will risk North Carolina’s well-deserved reputation for protecting the quality of our air, recruiting businesses that produce cutting-edge technologies and offering leadership around the world on energy issue.”

Cooper initially noted that “the state would be better off complying with the plan than filing suit” and recently strengthened his position stating that government officials should bring groups from different perspectives together to write a North Carolina plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan instead of trying to block it. Against this advice, North Carolina did join the challenge and was one of 28 states, power companies and industry groups that argued against the plan in a federal appeals court last month.

Also in his role as Attorney General, Cooper used North Carolina’s landmark 2001 Clean Smokestacks Act (which required emissions reductions from the state’s coal-burning power plants) to push the Tennessee Valley Authority to reduce power plant emissions that were coming into North Carolina. A lawsuit brought by the NC Department of Justice under Cooper’s direction resulted in a 2011 settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority that required the federally-owned utility to either install pollution control devices on its coal-burning power plants or shut them down, make cash payments to North Carolina to promote energy efficiency and spend $350 million on environmental projects.

Cooper and Renewable Energy

An advocate of job growth and economic development, Mr. Cooper sees a strong correlation between renewable energy and the economy. Cooper’s campaign website sums up his environmental focus as a way to support the economic viability for the state:

“A strong economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand. I am glad North Carolina has become a leader in renewable energy technology and that energy companies are shifting toward more sustainable power supplies than coal.”

Throughout his campaign website, Cooper uses renewable energy as a lever to encourage job growth and improved education, emphasizing the importance of new jobs in rural areas of the state, “Eastern N.C. can harness the emergence of solar to create new jobs.”  Further connecting jobs with clean energy, Cooper stated in a recent questionnaire that, “North Carolina solutions, with input from citizens, are the best ways to create jobs and pursue sound environmental policy that preserves natural resources and public health.”

Cooper on Coal Ash 

Coal ash became a major issue in North Carolina after Duke Energy spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina in 2014. Cooper has spoken out against the current administration’s coal ash clean up procedures and vows to “continue to oppose the efforts of utilities to pass on to ratepayers the costs of expenditures like coal ash cleanup.”

Cooper recently seized on the controversy surrounding the resignation of North Carolina’s state epidemiologist to highlight potential differences in his leadership approach to coal ash pollution issues. Dr. Megan Davies resigned after statements by a state toxicologist in a deposition were derided by leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Environmental Quality. At issue were disagreements over how to disseminate information on well water contamination risks to community members living near coal ash pits. A recent campaign ad aired by the Cooper campaign calls on Governor McCrory to “Tell the Truth.”

Cooper and Oil & Gas Drilling

In the case of both offshore exploration and drilling and onshore fracking, Cooper has neither expressed support for nor opposition to the proposed energy sources, but indicated that, if pursued by the state, environmental and consumer safeguards must be in place. A careful read of his campaign website’s Issues page does not mention a position on fracking or drilling at all.

For example, Roy Cooper responded in March 2016 to a candidate questionnaire by IndyWeek saying that “If North Carolina’s portion of the Atlantic Coast opens for offshore oil drilling important mitigations need to be in place to address the potential risk of environmental damage to our fragile coast and wetlands as well the potential risk to our tourism economies and recreational and commercial fishing. Without this mitigation and a share in the financial benefits our state will not be assured of either an economic win or a safe environment.”

In 2011, leaders in North Carolina’s General Assembly began passing laws to pave the way for hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and pushed to end a six-decade ban on horizontal drilling in the state. In 2012,  Attorney General Roy Cooper’s Office issued a report concluding that landowners and homebuyers need additional legal protections if North Carolina is to pursue fracking, but didn’t offer an opinion on the topic: “Property owners need to be protected if North Carolina is going to move forward with fracking. Consumers who are considering leasing their land for gas exploration need to be aware of the risks, and they also deserve to have critical legal protections in place.” Two years later, his office’s Consumer Protection Division halted a fracking lease for Crimson Holdings of Pennsylvania until it could prove that it was complying with state laws.

Summary

In summary, while Mr. Cooper’s campaign messaging is primarily focused on education and economic development, there is an underlying linkage between the environment and the economic success of the state:

“North Carolina’s environment is a critical part of the state economically and culturally. The state is a leader in renewable energy technology.”

Whether these policies include an emphasis on energy efficiency is unclear and our research was unable to determine Cooper’s stance on nuclear energy. However Cooper’s past positions on the Clean Smokestacks Act,  the 2011 TVA Settlement agreement and the Clean Power Plan seem to align with his stated belief that “a healthy environment is important for a strong economy and people’s health.”

SACE is committed to evaluating both candidates on energy issues running for Governor of North Carolina. Visit our earlier blog on current Governor Pat McCrory to read both blogs in this educational series. We also encourage North Carolina voters to tune into the final debate between Governor Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper tonight (Oct. 11) at 7 p.m. ET. Go here for more info on this debate.


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