North Carolina passed the Clean Smokestakcs Act in 2002, considerd one of the most progressive air pollution plans in the country. Meanwhile, however, the federal government has relaxed or delayed timetables for federal regulations aimed at reducing air pollution. Air pollution in Western North Carolina is responsible for increased rates of asthma in children, acid rain harming trout streams, smog that obscures mountain views, and ozone that is killing trees and other plants at high elevations.
More than a third of the counties in North Carolina have unhealthy levels of soot or smog due largely to power plant pollution wafting in from other states, according to Marily Nixon, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the suit on behalf of the Sierra Club. The Clean Air Task Force and Environment North Carolina are also involved in the suit, which was filed with a federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C.
The state of North Carolina has also been involved in a legal challenge against the EPA to hold power plants in neighboring states accountable for their pollution under the Clean Air Act. The “good neighbor” provision in the Clean Air Act allows a state to petition the EPA if power plants in upwind states are impeding the state’s ability to attain air quality standards.
Such a petition was filed more than two years ago. EPA denied the petition in March. The lawsuit asks the federal courts to overturn the EPA’s decision and force the environmental agency to uphold the Clean Air Act.
When the EPA denied the petition, it pointed to a new air pollution policy called “cap and trade.” It allows power plants that reduce emissions to sell pollution credits to other power plants who haven’t done so.
Under the policy, power plants that are polluting North Carolina’s air could simply buy pollution credits from other power plants, helping the pollution problem in other states but making it worse here.
“Too many people in our state are forced to breathe unhealthy air. These people do not care where this pollution comes from, they only want to see it reduced,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina.
Air pollution battles have landed in court a lot lately. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the Tennessee Valley Authority to clean up emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Yet another air pollution suit in the works involves a coalition of 13 states and several environmental groups opposed to new rules that would allow coal-powered plants exempt from today’s pollution standards to increase their output without bringing their emissions controls up to date.