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One of North Carolina’s most catastrophic hurricane seasons is coming to an end this week. While recovery continues for the most affected areas, we must also remember that this will happen again. We cannot predict exactly when or where future storms will hit, but we do know that climate change will make catastrophic storms more frequent and more damaging.
Last month, North Carolina lawmakers approved $800 million for storm recovery. That money comes from taxpayers and it only covers a fraction of the estimated $13.7 billion impact. This is on top of the $360 million of state funding allocated for Hurricane Matthew recovery two years ago.
Periodic disaster relief payments are critical for the communities affected by storms, but they are not enough. North Carolina needs a comprehensive strategy to create resilient infrastructure and landscapes that help communities bounce back from storms.
Wastewater treatment and electricity infrastructure must be improved. Cities can reduce or mitigate impervious surfaces. Farmers and forest landowners can adopt natural infrastructure such as riparian buffers and wetlands to increase the landscape’s ability to absorb water. Some homeowners and businesses need financial assistance to move out of flood-prone areas.
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These steps will be expensive, and the state strategy should ensure a steady, long-term source of funding to allow the necessary investments. A carbon market is an answer.
For example, mid-Atlantic and northeastern states already participate in a regional carbon market that covers the electricity sector. This program has generated over $3 billion for the participating states, creating net economic benefits due to investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and bill assistance for low-income consumers.
Virginia may soon join this regional effort and North Carolina could do the same. Based on current allowance prices, our state could generate approximately $200 million annually to invest in resiliency and emission reductions. Alternatively, state policymakers could explore other options, such as establishing a broader market that extends beyond the electric power sector.
North Carolinians may be more ready to embrace solutions than policymakers realize. Our work with southeastern energy regulators and farmers, respectively, gives us reason to be optimistic.
Electric utilities and their customers are finding new ways to reduce emissions, as the cost of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage continue to fall. North Carolina’s farmers suffered devastating losses in the hurricane, and many recognize the impacts of a changing climate on their ability to continue farming. Major agribusinesses in the state have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and are discovering new renewable energy business opportunities in the process.
Opponents may instinctually claim that a carbon market would harm North Carolina’s economy. This critique would be misplaced. North Carolina citizens will continue to pay for catastrophic storms one way or another. The questions are where the money comes from and whether it is used to react to damage or prevent it.
In our state, carbon market revenue could fund three much-needed areas. First, the state could invest in energy efficiency and direct bill assistance for low-and moderate-income residents to help reduce energy bills and electricity demand. Second, resilience funding could help communities and farmers prepare for future storms through infrastructure improvements and implementation of natural infrastructure. Third, the state could set aside some revenue to fund hurricane recovery. This approach would not only provide critical funding, it would also provide market certainty to guide electricity sector investments.
Recent hurricanes are glaring reminders that the impacts of climate change are nonpartisan. It is time for our state to rise to the challenge and invest in a resilient future.
Jonas Monast is the C. Boyden Gray Distinguished Fellow at the UNC School of Law and Director of the UNC Center for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Economics. Maggie Monast is Senior Manager, Agricultural Sustainability at Environmental Defense Fund.