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An Open Letter to the North Carolina General Assembly: Stand Up for Taxpayers

by Pete Sepp / /

Dear Legislator:

On behalf of National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) members in North Carolina, I urge you to support an override vote of the Governor’s veto of SB 71. This legislation represents a more balanced and sensible approach to the coal ash cleanup issue, and is currently the best protection residents have against a harsh regulatory edict that threatens higher energy prices as well as heavier taxpayer liabilities.

Even though North Carolina’s water quality has met the standards of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, recently the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a decision that assumes every one of Duke Energy’s repositories for coal ash – a byproduct of electricity generation – must be remediated in the same drastic manner. This process involves excavating, transporting, and securing the ash someplace else. While NTU makes no claim to scientific expertise, our members are concerned about the need to consider the economic aspects of this decision:

  • With cost estimates for a total “dig and rebury” strategy ranging into the high billions, consumers across the state, including millions of families and small businesses, would be in line for major increases in their energy bills. Alternatively, those costs could translate to reduced employment or expansion opportunities in the energy sector if they are “absorbed.” Investments in natural gas-fired plants – which the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently credited for a 25-year-low in power plant emissions – could, ironically, be stalled.

  • As thousands of trucks crisscross the state transporting coal ash to new sites, the wear and tear on roads would inevitably increase the pressure to boost the state’s fuel tax – which is already second-highest in the South and eighth-highest in the nation.

  • If extreme, one-size-fits-all remedies such as these are imposed at the behest of a few activists, and the energy sector suffers lower shareholder returns as a result, taxpayer-backed government pension plans (which often keep energy stocks in their portfolios) could see a downturn in their health. This would be a sad reversal for North Carolina, which by many measurements has some of the best-funded pension plans in the country.

For these and other reasons, NTU recommended that a commission of citizen-experts, appointed by the Governor and the General Assembly, be reconstituted to quickly develop a more responsible plan for addressing the concerns of those affected by coal ash while ensuring that the economic quality of life enjoyed by all residents remains intact. As former heads of the state’s Coal Ash Management Commission recently noted, “to the extent that there are more fiscally responsible solutions with comparable environmental efficacy, it is just common sense to choose the less expensive route.” NTU agrees, and believes that SB 71 would be a helpful step toward discovering such solutions.

Three years ago, NTU joined with Governor McCrory and other state leaders to pass one of the most sweeping tax reforms in any state for decades. Since that time, North Carolina experienced the most dramatic improvement in the nonpartisan Tax Foundation’s comprehensive business climate ranking that the organization has ever measured, from 44th to 15th in roughly two years. Capricious regulatory acts, less affordable energy, and heavier burdens for taxpayers would jeopardize this progress, which is why the General Assembly must override the veto of SB 71.  

Sincerely,

Pete Sepp
President