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AG Cooper wants out-of-state polluters to stop dirtying NC air

Release date: 3/17/2004

Cooper files 126 petition with EPA to make power plants in 13 states cut emissions

Charlotte: Attorney General Roy Cooper today asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop sources of pollution in thirteen other states that are hurting air quality in North Carolina.

“Dirty air can choke our lungs and our economy,” said Cooper. “We must act now to protect the health of North Carolina’s people and environment, as well as industries like farming and tourism that are critical to our state.”

Cooper today filed a petition under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, asking the federal government to force coal fired power plants in thirteen other states to cut down on pollution they are contributing to North Carolina. The plants identified in the petition are located in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Cooper asserts that these 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. He had previously written to attorneys general in the thirteen states named today to alert them to North Carolina’s plan to prepare a 126 petition. In his letters, Cooper also encouraged them to consider the state’s Clean Smokestacks Act as a model to cut down on dirty air produced in their states.

According to the petition filed today, air quality in many parts of the state as measured by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Air Quality at times either fails to meet the national standards or has difficulty meeting them. The air quality in parts of North Carolina fails to meet the national standards, as indicated by monitors in Alexander, Caswell, Catawba, Cumberland, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Granville, Guilford, Haywood, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Person, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Union, and Wake, Counties. Air quality in many other counties is just below the standard, raising concerns about whether the standard can be maintained.

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 sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) produced mainly by coal fired electric power plants. If the EPA determines that these power plants are unlawfully contributing to dirty air found in North Carolina, the plants would be required to make steep reductions in their emissions of these harmful pollutants.

Data indicate that power plants in Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia contribute significant air pollution to North Carolina in the form of ozone; plants in all of the states listed in the petition except Maryland contribute significant particulate matter.

These pollutants in the air 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 billion-a-year tourism industry.

Dirty air also 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. Senior citizens, children and anyone suffering from heart and lung diseases are particularly at risk.

Approved by the N.C. General Assembly and Governor Easley in June 2002, North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act is expected to lead to fewer cases of lung disease and asthma, less smog and acid rain, and lower mercury levels in the state’s lakes and rivers. The law requires the state’s 14 largest coal-fired power plants to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 70% from 1998 levels. Duke Energy and Progress Energy, operators of the plants, agreed to freeze electricity costs for five years to cover the costs of the clean up.

North Carolina’s law is stricter than federal restrictions on power plant emissions. The federal approach relies on a cap and trade system that allows utilities to buy and sell pollution credits. States upwind of North Carolina may currently follow these federal guidelines, but Cooper believes that the Clean Air Act itself requires them to do more to reduce pollution that is dirtying North Carolina’s air.

“We’ve taken steps to cut down on the pollution we produce here in North Carolina, but dirty air doesn’t respect state borders,” said Cooper. “Since we can’t stop air pollution at the state line, we want to cut it at the source.”