Sharing the bad air

“Do as I say, not as I do” might as well be the words of the state of North Carolina to the Tennessee Valley Authority when it comes to air quality and power-plant pollution.

While hearings were held in Asheville between N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and the Tenn.-based utility company, Charlotte-based Duke Energy was given permission by the state to construct (and is actively doing so) a brand new coal-fired power plant in the foothills of the mountains.

The question in the trial was whether or not air pollution from TVA’s coal plants has created a public nuisance in our state by fouling our air. But while Cooper attacked TVA, the state itself was creating its own public nuisance by permitting a brand-new coal plant at Cliffside. The irony is that this plant is already being challenged in court as illegal for initiating construction without proper mercury-control analyses. And thus, the hypocrisy of N.C. state government abounds.

Duke Energy seems to have convinced N.C. air-quality officials that this coal unit will be clean, but actually it will emit plenty of dangerous pollutants, including mercury, particulate matter, arsenic, dioxins and other heavy metals. These pollutants can cause serious and irreversible adverse effects to people’s health, including cancer, heart disease, stroke and neurological impairment, especially in the unborn.

Cliffside would also greatly contribute to global warming. Duke is planning to use old, outdated technology that would not allow for capture of carbon dioxide. In fact, over its lifetime, this plant would pump as much global-warming pollution into the already-warming atmosphere as 54 million new cars on the road. At a time in which global warming and clean air are truly of paramount concern to the public, why on earth is N.C.‘s Division of Air Quality contradicting the clear direction of its own attorney general?

North Carolinians will be the ones to bear the burden of irresponsible investments in coal-fired technology today that has no carbon-capture capabilities. But we’re not going to sue ourselves are we? No, and nor should we. In fact the lawsuit against TVA was a smart move on this state’s part and is holding the federal behemoth accountable for running outdated facilities for years without proper control technology to reduce air pollution.

Yet, the simple irony remains: We are pointing the finger at our neighbors while fouling our own backyard. North Carolina needs to be consistent and just say no to coal power—across the board. Consistency is one of the paramount principles of parenting. It ought to be so for our public officials charged with protecting the public health, welfare and air quality of our great state.

— Ulla Reeves
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
June Blotnick
Carolinas Clean Air Coalition

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