Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on Friday notified seven states that he will petition the Environmental Protection Agency to seek greater restrictions on pollutants in those states.
Cooper’s step is part of an effort spurred by the passage of the “Clean Smokestacks Act,” which requires Progress Energy and Duke Energy to significantly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury from their 14 coal-fired power plants in the state. The law also authorizes the state to “use all available resources and means,” including interstate agreements and litigation, “to induce other states and entities... to achieve reductions in emissions... comparable to those required by [the Smokestacks law] on a comparable schedule.”
In a letter to those seven state attorneys general, Cooper wrote, “Under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, we have the right to petition the U.S. [EPA] if we believe that sources in other states are contributing to our difficulty in attaining or maintaining air quality standards.
“If the EPA grants such a petition,” Cooper continued, “the contributing sources in other states will be subject to emissions limitations sufficient to abate such contribution.”
The letter was sent to officials in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
When the Smokestacks bill was overwhelmingly approved by the General Assembly in June 2002, most lawmakers said North Carolina needed to regulate its power plants’ emissions properly before it could tell neighboring states to clean up their act. Standards are more restrictive in the Smokestacks law than those in the federal Clean Air Act.
The state began to tell the rest of the Southeast late last year that it had taken the environmental high ground. Cooper sent a letter to his counterparts in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia in August 2002, notifying them of the state’s new “law that will dramatically reduce air pollution without increasing electricity rates for consumers.”
“The [Smokestacks] law puts North Carolina at the forefront among states in combating harmful smokestacks emissions,” Cooper wrote. “We encourage our neighbors to pursue similar efforts.
“...North Carolinians do not want the benefits created by this new law to be lost because of emissions from other states. We will look at all options available to us to ensure that does not happen.”
An editorial by The Charlotte Observe at the time characterized Cooper’s letter to the neighboring states as “gentle saber-rattling.”
“The letter was cordial and polite, but firm about NC’s intention to address the problem,” said Cooper spokesman John Bason in an e-mail message to Carolina Journal last November.
In last week’s letter, Cooper said that the EPA estimates that three monitoring sites in North Carolina – Charlotte, Hickory, and Lexington – will fail to meet standards for the finest particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2010.
“This modeling, along with much other data, supports our view that we will need additional controls outside North Carolina to attain and maintain the PM2.5 standard at these sites as well as others,” he wrote.
Cooper said in the letter that the petition to the EPA will likely address coal-fired utility plants in other states, “which the evidence shows are contributing significantly to non-attainment in or interfering with maintenance by North Carolina of the PM2.5 standard.” North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality last year asked utilities in neighboring states to provide data about emissions from their coal-burning power plants. Cooper said he intends to send the petition once all the evidence has been evaluated, and asked recipients of the letter to collaborate with North Carolina to solve its mutual air problems.
“As I am sure you understand, protecting the health of North Carolinians is our primary objective under the Clean Smokestacks Act,” Cooper wrote.
“Clean air is essential to our health and important to our economy. We cannot wait unduly for improvements to be undertaken elsewhere.”
Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.