North Carolina Sues Tennessee Valley Authority Over Power Plant Emissions
Nov. 16North Carolina's attorney general announced plans Monday to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority to try to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
"Pollution ignores state boundaries, so we all have to do our part to make sure the air is clean," Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
Mr. Cooper blamed TVA for polluting North Carolina by failing to bring its aging coal plants up to the stricter standards for new plants. The action is similar to that brought against the federal utility in 1999 by the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal action was later dismissed on procedural grounds by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, and the U.S. Department of Justice has not pursued the case against TVA this year.
TVA officials immediately challenged the North Carolina action, claiming it is unfair and could threaten the reliability of its power.
"We're in compliance with all of the Clean Air standards and continue to reduce our emissions," said John Shipp, TVA's vice president in charge of environmental compliance. "While we have been steadily reducing the emissions from our coal plants, emissions in North Carolina have been going up."
Mr. Shipp also questioned why North Carolina's attorney general was going to sue TVA for violating New Source Review standards with its plant maintenance when North Carolina utilities have not been sued under the same grounds.
But Mr. Cooper and environmental groups said the lawsuit against TVA is needed to make further cuts in emissions. North Carolina adopted its Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002 to force further emission reductions "and aggressively pursue emission reductions from out-of-state plants," Mr. Cooper said. He said many of TVA's 11 coal-fired plants "contribute significantly to air quality problems in North Carolina, resulting in adverse consequences to the health and welfare of our citizens."
In March, Mr. Cooper filed a petition under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, asking the federal government to force coal-fired plants in 13 other states, including those served by TVA, to cut emissions.
Last week, former EPA enforcement officials questioned whether the Bush administration will still pursue New Source Review and other air pollution cases against TVA and other utilities.
"We expect four more years of lax enforcement at the federal level," said Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA official who quit the agency three years ago in protest to head the Environmental Integrity Group in Washington D.C. "Where EPA does not act, we need to put more pressure on these state agencies."
Mr. Shipp noted that regulators in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky have permitted TVA's coal power plants. He said applying the New Source Review standards proposed in North Carolina and previously by EPA could force costly delays in getting approval for even routine plant maintenance.
TVA's older coal plants, which date back to the 1940s, are grandfathered in under less stringent standards than are new coal plants. TVA claims it has performed routine maintenance to sustain the plants, but critics charge that the older plants have been upgraded and rebuilt and therefore should be regulated as new plants.
TVA is spending $5.6 billion over two decades to cut emissions from its coal plants, Mr. Shipp said. By 2010, TVA should cut its sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to smog by more than 75 percent from the levels of the 1970s.
Even with the installation of new scrubbers and nitrogen oxide reduction devices, however, more than half of the 59 coal-fired boilers operated by TVA will not have new pollution-control technologies by the end of the decade, according to Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
"We applaud this action by North Carolina," Dr. Smith said. "Unfortunately, the merits of the case against TVA for New Source Review violations have never been tried and got caught up in the legal wrangling between two federal agencies. TVA is making improvements, but it needs to do much more."
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© 2004, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.