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AG Cooper announces action on NC's push to cut out-of-state pollution

Release date: 2/17/2005

Raleigh: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take action on North Carolina’s petition to stop sources of pollution in thirteen other states that are hurting our air quality, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.

“This is a win for all of us who want to stop these out-of-state polluters from damaging the air we breathe,” said Cooper. “North Carolina is working hard to clean up our own air, but those efforts alone won’t stop the dirty air we inherit from other states.”

Under a consent decree filed today in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, the EPA has agreed to a schedule for acting on Cooper’s request to cut emissions from certain out-of-state sources of pollution that dirty North Carolina’s air. Cooper made the request last March in a petition filed under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, asking the federal government to force coal fired power plants in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia to reduce pollution they contribute to North Carolina.

According to the schedule outlined in documents filed with the court today, the EPA will publish its proposed decision on North Carolina’s petition no later than August 1, 2005. If the EPA agrees with Cooper’s contention that power plants named in the petition are degrading North Carolina’s air quality, the proposal must also put forward a remedy for the pollution problems. In addition, the EPA must hold a public hearing on its proposal in North Carolina during the week of September 12, 2005. The EPA has agreed to publish its final decision and details on any remedy no later than March 15, 2006.

Cooper believes that North Carolina has a strong case and that under this schedule the EPA should have a plan in place to reduce pollution from other states by next year.

The EPA must now determine whether the power plants named in the petition are significantly contributing to North Carolina’s difficulty in meeting or maintaining clean air standards for particulate matter and ozone. These pollutants are formed mostly from emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

Data indicate that power plants in Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia contribute significant air pollution to North Carolina in the form of NOx which forms ozone; plants in all of the states listed in the petition except Maryland contribute significant SO2 and NOx which form particulate matter. If the EPA determines that these power plants are unlawfully contributing dirty air to North Carolina, the plants could be required to make steep reductions in their emissions of these harmful pollutants.

Today’s agreement comes after the EPA failed to act on North Carolina’s petition by its original deadline of November 18, 2004. Because the EPA has not made a determination by that date, Cooper wrote to EPA

Administrator Michael Leavitt the following day that he would pursue action in Federal court to compel the EPA to take action. The consent decree filed today is the result of negotiations between Cooper’s office and the EPA.

Cooper asserts that out-of-state polluters are interfering with North Carolina’s ability to meet national air quality standards despite the state’s success at cleaning up in-state pollution under its Clean Smokestacks law. North Carolina’s law, approved by the General Assembly and Governor Easley in June 2002, is stricter than federal restrictions on power plant emissions and requires the state’s 14 largest coal-fired power plants to reduce harmful emissions of SO2 and NOx. Cooper has long encouraged other states to look to the North Carolina law as a model for cleaning up their own emissions.

Dirty air costs people and businesses in increased doctor and hospital visits, higher health insurance costs and lost productivity due to illness. Unhealthy levels of airborne ozone and particulate matter are known to cause coughing and shortness of breath, to aggravate asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart disease and emphysema, and to heighten the risk of early death.

These pollutants also degrade our water and soil, damage farmers’ crops and hurt the state’s forests, rivers and lakes. In addition, they cause haze and reduce visibility, especially in the North Carolina mountains where vistas are an important draw for the state’s $12.6 billion-a-year tourism industry.

“Dirty air can choke our lungs, cloud our mountain views and stifle our economy,” said Cooper. “That’s why we’ll keep pushing for cleaner air.”