North Carolina Set to Sue Over Coal Plants
Nov. 20N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday that he intends to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to require reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants in 13 states that he says pollute North Carolina's air.
The threat came after the EPA failed to act on Cooper's petition in March to tackle what he says are Clean Air Act violations. The EPA had until Thursday to respond, but instead it asked the state for more time so that it could see whether a new rule it plans to implement across the Eastern United States would solve the problem.
"Our people, our environment and our economy all need clean air in order to thrive," Cooper said in a statement. "Every day our petition is delayed is a missed opportunity to make a real impact on pollution."
Cooper sent a letter to the EPA that serves notice he will sue in federal court to compel the EPA to act. The letter, as required by law, gives the EPA 60 days to act or deny the request.
EPA spokesman John Millett said the threat of a lawsuit did not change the agency's position. On Thursday, EPA Assistant Administrator Jeffrey R. Holmstead said in a letter to North Carolina officials that the proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule would force power plants in eastern states to clean up their air.
EPA officials say they hope to introduce the new rule within the next 60 days, and say it would reduce smog and soot from smokestacks by as much as two-thirds over the next 10 years.
The Southern Environmental Law Center joined with Cooper, sending the EPA a similar 60-day intent to sue notice on behalf of N.C. Environmental Defense, a nonprofit environmental group.
"EPA has dragged its feet for eight months while the health of 8 million North Carolinians is threatened every day by air pollution that doesn't recognize state lines," said Marily Nixon, an attorney for the center. "Cleaning up power plants in the upwind 13 states will go a long way toward reducing this health threat."
The power plants are in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Cooper and environmental advocates say the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions are the single largest source of air pollution in the region. The law center says that more than 1,000 people in North Carolina die each year due to exposure to power plant pollution the ninth highest rate in the country.
Hundreds of thousands more suffer asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. That includes about 170,000 children, the law center says, adding that it costs an estimated $100 million annually to care for them.
Cooper also says it hurts the tourism industry in Western North Carolina, contributing to a haze that obscures mountain views throughout the region.
Earlier in the week, Cooper announced he also intends to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority, a publicly owned utility, contending that several of its coal-fired power plants contribute to North Carolina's dirty air. TVA officials say the suit lacks merit because they have greatly reduced emissions and are on course to cut them further.
Cooper charges that out-of-state polluters make it difficult for the state to meet national air quality standards. North Carolina adopted a "Clean Smokestacks" law in 2002 that is stricter than federal regulations on power plant emissions.
Under the state law, utility power plants are required to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide year-round by 78 percent by 2009 and make a 74 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide by 2013. Nitrogen oxide is the main cause of ozone and contributes to acid rain. Sulfur dioxide is the main cause of fine particles, haze and acid rain.
North Carolina was required to make improvements to its power plants as a result of a similar petition brought by northeastern states in 1999.
Tom Mather, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Air Quality, said the 14 coal-fired power plants in North Carolina are in compliance with EPA standards.
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© 2004, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News