U.S. District Judge Lacy H. Thornburg has ruled that Duke Energy must comply with the Clean Air Act for its new unit at the Cliffside power plant in Rutherford County. The Dec. 2 order forces Duke to undergo a stringent process to investigate the plant’s likely pollution levels, as well as the appropriate technology to control toxics released from the new coal boiler that Duke says will replace several smaller older units.
The review process must begin within 10 days and — within 60 days — result in controls that meet the strict requirements of the Clean Air Act. If Duke doesn’t comply, the court could “intervene if necessary” and halt construction on the plant.
Thornburg sided with conservation groups that had challenged Duke’s failure to obtain pollution limits that would adequately control toxic air pollution. He rejected Duke’s argument that it could substitute voluntary efforts for the mandatory requirements of the Clean Air Act and that the plant’s emissions were too small to require additional controls. “The Cliffside Unit 6 qualifies as a potential ‘major source’ of” hazardous air pollutants and was thus “subject to regulation,” Thornburg found.
In the ruling, Thornburg also declared that the North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality “has the authority and duty to enforce the requirement [for] a full [Maximum Achievable Control Technology] MACT proceeding and to modify its previously issued construction permit” if necessary.
According to a report in the Triangle Business Journal, Duke representatives say they’ll appeal the decision but, in the meantime, comply.
This is the second legal ruling that could affect the Cliffside project: In mid-November, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that it must consider whether to regulate carbon dioxide emissions before granting a permit to a coal-fired plant in Utah.
For more on Cliffside, see the Green Scene feature in the Dec. 10 Xpress.
— by Margaret Williams, contributing editor