Front Porch Blog

Duke Energy’s Plan for Dirty Air

Charlotte, NC – based Duke Energy earned the ire of environmental and public health advocates last week when they succeeded in passing a sneaky and confusing bill through the North Carolina General Assembly that would, in essence, allow them to run their scrubbers on their planned new coal-fired generating units at the Cliffside Steam Station in Rutherford County only part of the time. The rest of the time, they will be sending unfiltered sulfur pollution into the air directly upwind of Charlotte and Hickory – two cities that are already having trouble meeting EPA attainment standard for deadly small particle pollution.

The Charlotte Observer summed the issue up well in today’s editorial page:

By going to the legislature for the exemption, the utility avoided having to comply with a rule adopted by the Environmental Management Commission in 2005 that prohibited getting air pollution credits under the Clean Smokestack Act to offset emissions at new plants. Duke won the regulatory fight, but may lose much of the public goodwill it earned by agreeing to the Clean Smokestack Act.

The Observer goes on to say:

The legislature’s Duke Energy exemption was a policy call that could have gone either way. But there’s one danger beyond the facts of that situation. Tar Heel lawmakers should avoid making changes that other states could argue undermines the Clean Smokestack Act — and the North Carolina argument that other states should clean up their own air, too.

This is precisely the point. Since passing the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, Attorney General Roy Cooper has worked tirelessly to control pollution coming from upwind states. In addition, 80% of the North Carolina General Assembly signed a letter and 25 towns and 4 counties have passed resolutions calling on our representatives in Congress to uphold or even strengthen the federal Clean Air Act, which is one of the few tools we have to force upwind states to reduce pollution. All of this was based on the moral authority the state gained from passing Clean Smokestacks.

In passing the Duke Exemption, the General Assembly has forfeited that moral authority – we’re just another southeastern state that puts the profits of our politically powerful utilities ahead of the health and well-being of our ordinary citizens.

As for Duke Energy, they too have forfeited any gains they made in their image as a “good corporate neighbor” – despite their recently updated website which is a study in duplicitous, faux-environmental public relations. Many of us made the mistake of extolling Duke Energy as a model corporate citizen after they went along with Clean Smokestacks and acknowledged the pressing problem of global warming (words that are very different from their actions).

We won’t make that mistake again.





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