The Healthy Air Industry


When Person County Manager Steve Carpenter talks about the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act (CSA), the enthusiasm in his voice is unmistakable. But the enthusiasm is not because of the much cleaner air that he and his constituents will soon be breathing as a direct result of the CSA. No, when Steve Carpenter thinks about the CSA, he thinks about jobs – hundreds of skilled, high paying and long-term jobs. “Not only are we getting the employment bang from the construction of the pollution scrubbers,” says Steve, “we are also getting a tremendous boost of over 200 full-time, permanent jobs from the resulting new wall board plant.”

Person County, located just north of Durham, is home to two large coal-fired power facilities owned by Progress Energy. These plants – Roxboro and Mayo – have been among North Carolina’s largest sources of the two main components of air pollution: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. But not for long. The North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act (CSA) and related state requirements are resulting in large reductions in the state’s pollution – about 70-80%. Other toxic pollutants, particularly mercury, will also be reduced considerably.

But there’s nothing unexpected in the pollution reductions– they’re why the state legislature passed with Clean Smokestacks Act back in 2002 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The surprise story is the large number of jobs that are already resulting from these and related projects. Using a methodology developed by the Washington, DC-based Institute of Clean Air Companies, Appalachian Voices teamed up with the North Carolina office of Environmental Defense to calculate the number of year-long jobs that will result from installation of these air pollution filters: about 5,500. But those jobs are just the start. Hundreds of manufacturing jobs are being created in total on the front end (hardware manufacture), additional operation and maintenance of the facilities, and even more significantly permanent jobs that result from the production of mountains of gypsum, the waste product of sulfur dioxide scrubbers.

One Industry’s Waste: Another’s Treasure

According to Nancy Spurlock, spokesperson for National Gypsum, “It’s wonderful to have a gypsum source that allows us to construct a wall board plant near our national headquarters here in Charlotte. The 80-100 new jobs are also a big morale booster for the people of Charlotte, at a time when more traditional industries are being lost.” Spurlock said that the Charlotte plant would use the waste gypsum from Duke Energy’s Marshall, Allen, Belews Creek and Cliffside power plants located within a hundred mile radius of the Queen City.

Governor Mike Easley proudly announced the wall board plant in Person County in February of this year. “British Plaster Board’s (BPB) announcement to locate in Person County provides our state with an importantly environmentally aware company that not only hire highly skilled workers but will also use synthetic gypsum produced from newly installed scrubbers at Progress Energy’s Roxboro plant,” he said. According to BPB’s CEO, Brent Thompson, “We will put to productive use what would otherwise have been sent to landfills. Synthetic gypsum is an excellent raw material for gypsum board.”

For the installation project in the Person County plants of Roxboro and Mayo, a total of over 2,100 year-long jobs are created. A significant portion of those jobs are for workers in Person County. Considering that the county has about 17,000 total jobs, this number becomes significant. When considering that the unemployment number for the county is about 1000 workers, the installation jobs and even more so the 200 permanent jobs at the BPB plant indicate the highly significant job opportunities for the county’s families.

The Next Steps

Stephen Smith, the Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy based in Knoxville, TN, is widely recognized as one of the genuine energy visionaries in the region. While Smith sees the job creation resulting from nitrogen and sulfur reduction as a great start, he believes that we have barely begun to tap the economic and job creation potential of cleaner energy production.

“The next chapter of the Clean Smokestacks Act is how North Carolina deals with carbon dioxide,” says Smith. While the CSA mandated that the state study how to reduce it’s production of carbon dioxide – the primary culprit in global warming – it did not actually mandate that companies begin reducing carbon emissions. Smith believes that, with creative approaches and market-based incentives, controlling carbon has tremendous economic potential for the region.

“When you factor in climate,” says Smith, “You can begin looking at developing a carbon marketplace, and that’s where you begin to mine a deep vein of economic multipliers.”

What is meant by a carbon marketplace? It’s really no different than the so-called “Cap and Trade” approach the federal government has taken to reducing other pollutants such as the sulfur and nitrogen. The idea is that reducing emissions of carbon dioxide has a value to society, since the best estimates of what global warming is going to cost – from the loss of agricultural lands and expansion of deserts to the inevitable loss of North Carolina’s outer banks – are almost too huge to estimate. The carbon marketplace would put a dollar value on the reduction of carbon dioxide as an incentive for businesses and individuals to reduce their contribution to carbon emissions. Almost all experts agree that the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to make our society more energy efficient in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which account for most of the excess carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere.
The idea, then, is that we will not just be looking at retrofitting a few power plants to burn coal cleaner, but rather government would provide financial incentives for any building, vehicle, or other big user of energy and fuel to become more energy efficient. “When we begin creating incentives for energy efficiency,” says Smith, “That will lead to a large-scale development of an energy efficiency industry.”

“Retrofitting is very labor intensive,” continues Smith, “And so the job creation potential is huge.”

Other than promoting energy efficiency, the carbon marketplace would also do a lot to promote the development of alternative energy sources, such as wind power, that are essentially pollution-free once they are installed. According to Smith, “Any time you internalize the external costs of coal by doing things like putting a dollar value on carbon dioxide pollution, you level the playing field for alternative energy sources.”

According to Mary Anne Hitt, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices, there are even more obvious next steps that could be taken to clean up pollution and create jobs in the Southeast’s emerging healthy air industry.

“North Carolina was the first state in the region to muster the political will to do something about its air pollution problem,” says Hitt, “And now it is reaping the benefits – both in terms of healthier air and in terms of the creation of new jobs.”

“It’s time that other states in the region take a hard look at what they’re doing, or rather not doing, about having the dirtiest air in the nation,” says Hitt. “The fact that Virginia is considering its own Clean Smokestacks Act patterned after North Carolina’s is a good sign, but people need to demand this sort of plan from their Governors and legislators. It’s through just that kind of grassroots pressure that North Carolina passed its Clean Smokestacks Act.”

For more information on clean and alternative energy initiatives in the Southeast, visit the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s website at or call (865) 637-6055


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