North Carolina continually struggles to balance the environment and the economy.

Exhibit A is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. You can read about that here.

But here are four of the other big environmental fights in North Carolina.

Offshore drilling

Although offshore drilling along North Carolina’s coast has been discussed for years, it took a major step toward reality when the Trump administration announced intentions to open most of the Atlantic coast to oil exploration.

It will likely take several years until specific plans are developed, but some details are already clear. The federal draft proposal says drilling could be as close as 3 miles offshore. Leases to companies looking to drill in the mid-Atlantic would likely not be offered until 2020 or 2022.

Opponents cite scientific studies claiming that very little oil is even available off North Carolina’s coast. And though it happened in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill is still very fresh in people’s minds. Cooper has threatened to sue to stop any offshore drilling. Numerous coastal towns have also passed resolutions against drilling.

But most Republican leaders are in favor of the plans. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest supports offshore drilling that is environmentally responsible provided that there is significant revenue sharing with state and local government, saying the drilling could bring economic benefits and thousands of jobs.

Public hearings begin in February.

Photo by Don’t Drill NC via Facebook

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Western Carolinas Modernization Project

In early 2015, Duke Energy was proposing a new 45-mile-long transmission line that would run from Asheville to Campobello, S.C., as part of a $320 million plan to modernize energy resources in the western part of the state. Duke also planned to retire an unpopular coal-fired power plant in Asheville and replace it with natural gas facilities.

That transmission line was the sticking point. The 40-mile line would be atop 140-foot-tall poles placed every 1,000 feet — angering environmentalists who said that would kill western North Carolina’s natural beauty.

Potential routes for the transmission line. Image via the Carolina Land Coalition.

Opposition was particularly fierce in Buncombe, Henderson and Polk counties, with door-to-door campaigns against the project.

By the end of the year, Duke had scrapped the plans for the transmission line and scaled back their overall project.

Offshore wind

This area is contentious even for people who are environmentally conscious.

Some environmental groups are in the camp that renewable energy is a valuable investment and cite studies showing that North Carolina has rich potential for wind energy.

But one of the major concerns, obviously, is how the view would be impacted for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to North Carolina beaches each summer.

The federal government mocked up what it’s expected to look like at ful build-out. Look closely at the horizon. You can look for the visualization studies of your favorite N.C. beach here.

Cape Lookout at morning
Kitty Hawk in the afternoon
Oak Island

Only one project has come to anything resembling fruition.

In March 2017, an auction was held for 122,000 acres in the Kitty Hawk area, about 27 nautical miles offshore. Avangrid Renewables LLC won the rights for about $9 million.

Implementation has not yet begun. Future auctions could be held closer to the South Carolina border.

Wind energy in the mountains

This debate has fallen along the same lines as offshore wind — job creation and renewable energy against the beauty of the natural terrain.

Appalachian State University estimated that opening up wind power could create some 22,000 jobs in western North Carolina.

A bill that would ban wind turbines on ridges above 3,000 feet was passed overwhelmingly by the N.C. Senate in 2009, but never moved forward in the House.

Still, no commercial wind farms have tried to set up shop in the mountains of North Carolina. There are only a handful set up by App State at high schools.


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