Conservation Groups Bring Cliffside to Court

Guest Blog | October 16, 2008 | Press Releases

Asheville, N.C. – Conservation groups today asked a federal court in Western North Carolina to require Duke Energy to control hazardous air pollution from its Cliffside coal-fired power plant to the maximum extent possible. The groups told the court that construction on the 800-megawatt addition should be stopped because their air permit does not adequately control dangerous air emissions, including mercury and dozens of carcinogens such as arsenic, chromium and dioxin.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) are representing Environmental Defense Fund, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The groups represent thousands of North Carolina residents, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains and other nearby natural areas already affected by pollution from Cliffside.

“All we are asking is for Duke Energy to ensure that the people in North Carolina have the same health protection as folks in the rest of the country,” says Patrice Simms, a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Duke is continuing to build its conventional pulverized coal plant in violation of the clear requirements of the Clean Air Act. It is not only illegal, but it puts the people of North Carolina at risk of exposure to dangerous air toxics. Construction must be stopped until Duke conforms to the rule of law.”

The groups asked the federal court to instruct Duke Energy of its obligation to adequately control air pollution and stop construction until such controls are embedded in its air permit. A recent federal court decision made clear that coal-fired power plants are subject to the federal Clean Air Act’s most stringent air pollution controls, however, Duke began construction on the Cliffside expansion only10 days before the decision was issued.

“Construction of the new Cliffside facility under its current air permit commits North Carolinians to pollution from outdated, dirty coal technology for the next 50 years.” stated Ulla Reeves, regional program director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Building a coal plant with today’s knowledge of global warming and the threats of mercury is simply irresponsible.”

Intended to protect public health, air quality, and national parks, the Clean Air Act requires new coal-fired power plants use the most stringent pollution controls for reducing 66 of the most highly toxic emissions, including mercury and lead, which can cause serious and irreversible adverse effects to people’s health, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and neurological impairment. Until Duke Energy determines how it will limit emissions of these pollutants using the “Maximum Available Control Technology,” which the company has yet to do, construction of the massive new coal-burner at Cliffside is in violation the law.

“Forcing Duke to conduct a proper analysis would be a touchdown for public health and air quality,” said Michael Regan, Southeast climate and air policy director for Environmental Defense Fund. “Duke Energy deserves the penalty flag for constructing a plant that fails to guarantee maximum protection from dangerous toxic emissions.”

“Ultimately, it is the neighbors of Cliffside, their children and grandchildren, and economic resources like Great Smoky Mountains National Park that will suffer the effects of this coal plant’s air pollution,” said Stephanie Kodish, clean air counsel with the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association. “North Carolinians and national park visitors want to breathe clean air; the laws in place to ensure our air is clean shouldn’t be ignored.”

Already one of the nation’s most polluted national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is expected to be greatly affected by pollution from Cliffside, which will harm the park’s air and water quality and affect wildlife, including several endangered species. Additionally, surveys have shown that visitors will avoid national parks with poor air quality, which affects the local economy.

On October 15, the eve of the federal court hearing, Duke submitted a letter to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality falsely claiming that it is not required to limit its hazardous air pollution, because its emissions will not surpass the threshold. A review of emissions from similar-sized coal-fired power plants undermines this assertion.

“This midnight hour dodge is just the most recent example of Duke Energy’s long history of avoiding compliance with the Clean Air Act,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club.
The National Parks Conservation Association’s recent report, Dark Horizons, called attention to the threat posed by coal-fired power plants to Great Smoky Mountains and other parks nationwide. The report is available online at # # #