This feature pulls excerpts from the conversation with NC DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser on Episode 66 of the Squeaky Clean Energy Podcast. Further, NCSEA is excited to highlight the positive impacts that women have had on the energy industry as part of our celebration of Women’s History Month. Head over to this webpage to learn more about the Women in Clean Energy (WICE) initiative and how you can get involved!
In June 2021, Elizabeth Biser became the first woman in the history of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to be confirmed as Secretary of the agency. Governor Roy Cooper sought Biser for the role due to the wealth of knowledge and leadership experience she brings to the realm of programmatic environmental stewardship. She joins at a moment of unprecedented investment and opportunity as the attention on building a decarbonized future for all North Carolinians has never been higher. Federal and other sources of funding are pouring in at historic numbers to aid in achieving this vision for the state.
No stranger to the world of environmentalism and clean energy.
Elizabeth Biser has been exploring how to effectively promote the widespread benefits of a clean environment throughout her career. She previously served as the Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now known as DEQ). Her efforts were integral in administering regulatory and public assistance “to protect the air, water, land, and health of the environmental and its natural resources.” She came to love the issues that she was working on and has been pursuing ways to build a more circular economy ever since.
During her tenure, Biser helped rewrite the state’s solid waste laws while implementing programs to encourage recycling throughout communities. She was also instrumental in securing $134 million in funding for the design and construction of the Green Square Complex in Downtown Raleigh, which houses the LEED-certified central offices of DEQ today. Upon leaving the agency, Biser went on to become the VP of Policy and Public Affairs for the Recycling Partnership and later the Government Relations and Policy Advisor of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey, & Leonard, LLP. Most recently, she acted as President of Biser Strategies LLC and Senior Advisor for the Recycling Partnership.
In the conversation on the podcast, Secretary Biser mentioned her excitement to return to DEQ with a refined ability of “providing science-based environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.” Her focus is to ensure it is done in an equitable manner to expand upon the distributional benefits of a clean energy transition across the state.
A rare opportunity to invest in NC’s clean energy future.
The times have changed since Biser was last with DEQ in 2010, during which the agency was experiencing a series of budget cuts. However, today she emphasizes that the state has been presented with “a rare opportunity to invest in the future” considering the transformative amount of funding being invested in the clean energy buildout. This comes at a pivotal moment as NC looks to pursue decarbonization and community resilience following Executive Order 80 (EO 80) and House Bill 951 (HB 951). In particular, Secretary Biser mentioned the following funding sources that fall within DEQ’s wheelhouse:
The Volkswagen emissions-cheating settlement:
Of the $2.8 billion dollar settlement, NC will receive approximately $92 million dollars to offset transportation related emissions in the state. To date, DEQ’s Division of Air Quality has already awarded $28 million to replace school and transit buses across the state as part of Phase 1. The Secretary shared her excitement about the announcement of the state’s first fully electric school bus located in Western NC operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The state is currently in Phase 2, where $67 million will be directed to further fleet replacements and bolster charging infrastructure in priority corridors, coastal evacuation routes, and rural areas. Secretary Biser underlined the important role that this initiative is playing to achieve emissions reductions goals, given that the transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in NC.
The Federal Infrastructure Bill & American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA):
The $1.2 trillion Federal Infrastructure Bill could result in NC receiving more than $1 billion dollars of funding over the next five years. More than $200 million will be focused on drinking water and wastewater, including the replacement of lead service lines, as well as clean-up for PFAS-contaminated areas. Significant amounts of funding will also be directed to EV charging programs under the NC Department of Transportation.
Furthermore, ARPA could result in approximately $1.6 billion of funding invested in state energy programs, grid resilience, and competitive grant opportunities. Biser stressed the importance of prioritizing equity by investing in the communities that need it the most. Supporting workforce development, community solar programs, and weatherization programs can be an integral piece in uplifting low-to-moderate income communities and addressing the energy burden. The Secretary was particularly excited to showcase an apprenticeship program in partnership with schools like NC Agricultural & Technical (A&T) State University, Appalachian State University, and Eastern Carolina University. The program itself is designed to build interest in NC’s clean energy future amongst students from underserved backgrounds, while building the workforce to support the growing industry. Interest in this apprenticeship program has grown dramatically at schools like NC A&T State University since the announcement of EO246 back in January.
Creating a clear vision to achieve a clean energy future.
Secretary Biser emphasized the importance of understanding where we have been and where we are going as a state to ensure a successful clean energy transition. The completion of DEQ’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory is one way to ensure resources and funding are being directed in the right areas. “It acts as a snapshot that allows us to benchmark what we know and what is left to do,” according to Biser. The recent inventory, which will be updated every two years, validates EO246’s focus on the transportation sector, along with other areas outlined in the goals including:
- Building on the success of EO80 & HB951 to achieve statewide emissions reductions of 50% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
- Paving the way for Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) with 1.25 million ZEVs on the road by 2030 and half of all new vehicle sales by 2050. There are currently around 39,000 ZEVs registered in the state, and the DOT anticipates this figure increasing exponentially in the near future because of the momentum in the market.DOT has been tasked by the Governor with creating a Clean Transportation Plan by April 2023 to form a comprehensive strategy for achieving these targets.
- Incorporating environmental justice and equity in the implementation of the Executive Order. Transparency with the public through engagement and stakeholder processes, while targeting historically underrepresented voices, is a priority of this initiative.
Biser acknowledged that realizing these clean energy goals will require bipartisan support, a whole government approach, and a shared vision. Cascading effects, The Secretary explained, can be realized when the transportation and power sectors work together. She also said that implementing recommendations from the NC Clean Energy Plan and remaining proactive is essential as we move forward. The Secretary believes that the state has great potential to reduce emissions by promoting offshore wind development and carbon offsets in its expansive natural carbon sinks of land and forests areas.
Secretary Elizabeth Biser joins the NC Department of Environmental Quality at an exciting time in the state’s clean energy transition. She has made it clear that we must continue to pursue a just and equitable future for a shift. Biser also emphasized that the state has a tremendous capability to achieve its goals because of new technologies in the market, a growing workforce, and unprecedented funding. As she put it: “North Carolina has always been a leader in this space, but the status quo won’t get us to our goals.”
Head over to the NC DEQ website for more information on job listings, funding, programs, and other helpful resources. Also, be sure to listen to the full episode of the Squeaky Clean Energy Podcast with Host Matt Abele wherever you stream!