UPDATE: Asheville City Council voted unanimously April 28 to ask the the local air agency to strengthen emissions requirements for the Duke Energy plant in Arden. See below for the prior report, as well as a copy of Mayor Esther Manheimer’s letter to the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency.
PREVIOUSLY: At tonight’s meeting, April 28, Asheville City Council members may agree to ask the local air agency to “strengthen” proposed limits on sulphur dioxide emissions at Duke Energy’s local power plant. The move comes ahead of a Wednesday, April 29, public hearing that the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency will hold to consider renewing the air permit for the Duke Energy plant.
Council will review a proposed letter from Mayor Esther Manheimer to Britt Lovin, chairman of WNCRQA’s board. The letter references a recent study indicating that safe SO2 limits have been exceeded occasionally at the plant, and notes, “Council is concerned that the suggested permit limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2) is insufficient to protect city and county residents from harmful air pollution, and we ask that [the agency] strengthen that limit to ensure our residents can breathe healthy air.”
See below for the full text of the draft letter to WNCRQA. The public hearing will be healed Wednesday, April 29, at 6 p.m. at the Clyde A. Erwin High School auditorium (60 Lees Creek Road). The draft air-quality permit can be found here.
Chairman Britt Lovin
WNC Regional Air Quality Board
49 Mount Carmel Road
Asheville, NC 28806
Dear Chairman Lovin,
On behalf of the Asheville City Council, I am writing to express concern about the draft Title V air permit recently issued by the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency (WNCRAQA) for Duke Energy’s Asheville Steam Electric Plant. Specifically, Council is concerned that the suggested permit limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2) is insufficient to
protect city and county residents from harmful air pollution, and we ask that you strengthen that limit to ensure our residents can breathe healthy air.
As you know, even short‐term exposure to SO2 is linked with an array of adverse respiratory effects, including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. Elevated concentrations of SO2 in the air leads to more emergency room visits and hospital admissions, particularly for children, the elderly, and people with asthma.
According to a recent report that uses a model approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tracking SO2 pollution, emissions from the Asheville plant have been causing violations of the ambient air quality standard for SO2 established by EPA. Indeed, the report states that the pollution in residential and recreational areas is at concentrations up to 3.5 times higher than levels EPA has determined to be safe. These exceedances have occurred approximately one out of every three to four days since 2010.
I am concerned that the newly released draft air permit maintains the same SO2 emissions limit that the plant has had for years. This limit is nearly 80 times higher than the limit necessary to attain EPA’s public health‐based SO2 standard, and we believe it is insufficient to protect our community from the impacts of air pollution.
The final Title V permit should contain limits that allow ambient air in the Asheville area to meet EPA’s standard. We understand that limit to be no more than 61.7 lb/hr of SO2 for each coal‐burning unit, or a plant‐wide average of 0.029 lb/MMBtu. We also understand that these levels are achievable if the plant’s air pollution controls are run at full efficiency, as they were when they were first installed, or if the plant stops using high sulfur content coal.
Part of our job as elected officials is to ensure the safety of our community. There seems to be a clear path to addressing this problem and ensuring healthy air for our residents, and the first step on that path is for plant’s air permit to contain appropriate SO2 limits.
Esther Manheimer, Mayor