Cliffside not the right step

I'll post the article in its entirety below, but here's the link to a Charlotte Observer Op-Ed by Glen Hooks, regional director (Eastern U.S.) of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

The landmark Clean Smokestacks Act, which required utilities to better protect citizens from the hazardous pollutants of dirty coal plants, remains one of North Carolina's proudest environmental accomplishments.

And North Carolina continues to inspire today, with the aggressive leadership of Attorney General Roy Cooper, who forced TVA and other out-of-state polluters to clean up their coal-produced pollution drifting into North Carolina.

So it is disappointing to see North Carolina lose the high ground on the very issue for which it distinguished itself nationally.

Last week's decision by the Perdue administration's Division of Air Quality to grant Duke Energy's request to reclassify the massive Cliffside Unit 6 as a “minor source” of toxic air emissions will result in our citizens having less protection from harmful emissions than the citizens in neighboring states, such as Virginia. There, regulators required emissions controls for toxic mercury pollution more than 20 times stronger than would be the case for Cliffside, under the revised permit.

Duke Energy promotes the new coal boiler at Cliffside as a state-of-the-art facility that will replace more polluting and antiquated units on the plant's site. But under the Clean Smokestacks Act, Duke is already mandated to achieve pollution reductions from its existing coal fleet. In promoting how much cleaner Cliffside Unit 6 will be than what came before, Duke Energy is simply taking credit twice for the same cleanup.

The days of conventional coal plants such as Cliffside's new coal boiler are rapidly drawing to a close. National trends are running so heavily against coal that over the past two years, 95 out of a proposed 150 new plants have been dropped or postponed indefinitely due to escalating costs, regulatory uncertainty and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of this has to do with the escalating costs of coal, which are rising sharply and expected to increase further over time. But what cannot be ignored is the increasing viability of alternative energy sources. Last year more wind power came on line in the United States than power generated from new coal plants.

Once the Obama EPA begins to regulate CO2 emissions – expected as soon as April – it is unlikely that there will be new applications for conventional coal-fired power plants like Cliffside that can't capture or store carbon. The shortsightedness of Cliffside's design and its failure to be truly state-of-the-art makes Unit 6 obsolete – and assures that it will be costly for ratepayers – before it's built.

Nationwide, governors of both major parties have led the trend away from coal in many states. Gov. Katherine Sebelius of Kansas has steadfastly refused to permit new coal in her state despite repeated efforts by the state legislature to force her hand. Michigan's Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently issued a virtual moratorium on proposed new coal plants in her state. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford recently came out in opposition to a proposed plant in that state. And Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle directed the conversion of a public coal-fired generator to natural gas, citing the need to move away from coal.

North Carolina seems to be heading in a different direction. In granting Duke Energy's request to be treated as a “minor” source of toxic air emissions, Gov. Perdue, who ran on a clean energy platform, said it was her administration's job to keep “hazardous emissions to an absolute minimum.”

But instead, Duke Energy will now be allowed to emit far higher amounts of more than 50 toxic pollutants – including mercury, arsenic and dioxins – than allowed under the Clean Air Act.

Sadly, while Duke may reap the profits of this short-sighted decision, the health and welfare of North Carolinians will suffer for decades to come.

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