The state's Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change is charged with finding ways to reduce North Carolina's contributions to the warming of the planet. But commission member and state Sen. Robert Pittenger (R-Mecklenberg County) says regulating greenhouse gases is bad for business, and he has paraded climate change skeptics before the group.
In March 2006, before any scientist had addressed the 34-member panel, Pittenger sent his fellow commissioners copies of Bjørn Lomborg's 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist, which, although now considered outdated, attempts to discredit the theory that the world is getting warmer. (The Pew Center on Climate Change critiques Lomborg's assumptions at www.pewclimate.org/lomborg_critique.cfm.)
After the commission commenced, the conservative John Locke Foundation issued press releases on its Web site attacking the group. Meanwhile, Pittenger worked from the inside, challenging scientists on their research and introducing well-known skeptics to speak before the commission.
"We have a particular senator that seems to be close to the John Locke Foundation," says state Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro who co-chairs the commission. She is among the legislature's leading proponents of energy efficiency and renewables. "They seem to be on a mini-campaign to sow some seeds of doubt."
"There are certainly several other people on the commission who would challenge some of the assumptions [about global warming]," adds commission co-chair John Garrou, an attorney with Womble Carlyle, one of the state's largest and most influential law firms. "But Pittenger has been the most vocal."
Pittenger says he's merely offering balance to the discussion. "They have a lot of folks on there representing the green community," says Pittenger, who, after expressing interest in the commission, was appointed by Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight. "When you're coming to make recommendations for our legislature to consider, it better be coming from some valid people, not just some greenhorns with an agenda."
That agenda—to curb greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further warming of the planet and its disastrous consequences—has been approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an expert commission established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations. In addition, scores of the world's leading scientists have unequivocally stated, based on large amounts of historic meteorological data, that the planet is getting warmer because of human activity, particularly greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 2005 session, the General Assembly voted to establish the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change to study "issues related to global warming, the emerging carbon economy, and whether it is appropriate to establish a global warming pollution reduction goal."
The commission has met 11 times in daylong meetings at which experts have presented the latest research on many issues. The co-chairs set the agenda but accept recommendations from commission members. The commission drafts legislation that may be taken up in the next legislative session.
"You know the handful of scientists the industry trots out?" Harrison asks. "Pittenger has been pushing those people."
One of Pittenger's guest speakers was Patrick Michaels, Virginia's controversial former state climatologist. While in that position, Michaels received thousands of dollars from power companies to criticize global warming. According to The Roanoke Times, Michaels was paid $100,000 by the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, a Colorado electric cooperative that relies on coal-burning power plants, to "spread his anti-global warming message."
Michaels also brought that message to the legislative commission. According to meeting minutes, Michaels told members, "The public is not receiving a balanced flow of information, which unfortunately creates pressure for political change and pressure for adaptation or limits on carbon dioxide."
Robert Balling, another Pittenger invitee, told the commission, "It's very difficult to see what you can do that will ever have any impact on the global climate system or the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere."
Pittenger says neither Michaels nor Balling was pushing his or the Locke Foundation's agenda. "They were climatologists who I felt could give a balanced view," Pittenger says, though he acknowledges he learned of the scientists in The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Pittenger, like Roy Cordato, a researcher who has monitored the commission for the Locke Foundation, seems most concerned that the commission's efforts might lead to legislation that caps carbon emissions.
Cordato says he hopes no legislation will emerge from the commission.
"You have to be careful that the government doesn't step in and say, We can handle this," Pittenger says. "They're going to destroy industry so much we won't be able to develop the technologies we need to improve the environment we live in." He says the free market should drive environmental reform.
However, last session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 3, which requires electrical utilities operating in the state to provide 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources or energy efficiency by 2018. Although criticized by some environmental groups because utilities watered down the measure, it became law—making North Carolina the first state in the Southeast to have a renewable portfolio standard.
Pittenger says he ignored advice from the John Locke Foundation and voted for Senate Bill 3: "Pittenger is his own man."
Asked what policies he hoped would emerge from the study commission, Pittenger replied, "We ought to find a way to build a lot more trees. That will absorb carbon dioxide."
There are 34 members of the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change. Nine are appointed by the president pro tempore of the Senate and nine by the speaker of the House. Also on the panel are representatives from Duke Power, Progress Energy and N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. Representatives from four environmental groups, five academics and the state climatologist fill out the commission. Learn more at www.ncleg.net/gascripts/DocumentSites/browseDocSite.asp?nID=14.