Tennessee Valley Authority could be required to install more costly pollution controls on its coal plants next year under a consent agreement signed Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and North Carolina officials pushing to limit smog in the Great Smoky Mountains.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn — Tennessee Valley Authority could be required to install more costly pollution controls on its coal plants next year under a consent agreement signed Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and North Carolina officials pushing to limit smog in the Great Smoky Mountains.
But EPA's decision in the case could also be undone if Congress approves President Bush's Clear Skies initiative.
EPA agreed Thursday to consider a petition from North Carolina to compel power plants and factories in 13 Southeast and Midwest states to reduce unhealthy air emissions.
Under the landmark settlement, EPA will have until August to determine the validity of North Carolina's claim that neighboring states are unduly polluting its air.
If North Carolina prevails, EPA will be required to order a remedy for any excess pollution from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and 10 other states by March 2006.
"This is a win for all of us who want to stop these out-of-state polluters from damaging the air we breathe," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said. "Dirty air can choke our lungs, cloud our mountain views and stifle our economy."
Mr. Cooper contends that TVA and other utilities and industries in the eastern half of the United States are illegally polluting North Carolina air.
Such sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollutants that help form smog are threatening the health of residents and damaging North Carolina's $12.6 billion-a-year tourism industry, Mr. Cooper said.
TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said the settlement reached Thursday only sets a timetable for an EPA decision and doesn't reflect any judgment about TVA pollution.
"We will provide information as necessary in this case," she said. "But we are continuing to make significant clean air investments to reduce our emissions."
In response to North Carolina's initial claim, TVA said in December it was doing more to clean up the air in the region than are utilities in North Carolina. The federal utility is in the midst of a $5.6 billion program to install new equipment and burn cleaner coal to cut sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions by over 75 percent by 2010.
North Carolina is the first Southern state to pursue action against its neighbors under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act that allows one state to petition to EPA to control pollution from upwind power plants and factories. But the Clear Skies legislation moving through the U.S. Congress would block any such interstate claims until at least 2014, environmentalists said.
Michael Shore, a senior policy expert for Environmental Defense in Asheville, N.C., said Thursday's settlement puts pressure on the EPA to fulfill its promise to issue a rule next month to achieve many of the suit's goals.
That rule would order pollution cuts from power plants in 29 Eastern states, including the 13 affected by the North Carolina petition.
"EPA would have to repudiate all of its ... analyses to find anything else but that the sources in upwind states are contributing to air pollution in North Carolina," he said. "North Carolina is using EPA's own data to support their claims."
Vickie Patton, a senior attorney for Environmental Defense, urged the Bush administration to quickly develop its Clean Air Interstate Rules (CAIR) and enforce the existing Clean Air standards rather than pursue its Clear Skies legislation. Clear Skies would curb major pullution from power plants by 70 percent over the next two decades.
"Clear Skies is unnecessary and would do far-reaching, long-standing damage to clean air by, among other things, not allowing states to pursue these type of 126 petitions (against neighboring states) until 2014," she said.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to begin marking up the Clear Skies bill in two weeks, however.
Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities, said North Carolina's legal move was "unnecessary and premature" because either Clear Skies or CAIR would address the state's concerns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
To see more of the Chattanooga Times/Free Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesfreepress.com. (c) 2005, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.