Front Porch Blog

Ten Years In, the Clean Smokestacks Act Continues to Benefit Us All

Right now, members of Congress are at home hearing from their constituents about the issues they most care about. In this spirit, we joined residents of North Carolina working on water issues to visit the Charlotte office Sen. Kay Hagan. It was exciting to be in the Queen City, as it gears up for the Democratic National Convention, which Appalachian Voices will participate in next week.

On the issues important to us, Senator Hagan has voted on the side of clean air and water. She opposed a Senate Joint Resolution to overturn the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which will greatly reduce the amount of mercury that coal-fired power plants contribute to that air, water and fish. Hagan also opposed overturning the Cross-State Air Pollution rule which unfortunately has been having some trouble in the courts.

We took advantage of the opportunity to thank her for these votes, and encouraged her to remain strong on these issues, as we suspect these attacks will continue into the new Congress. The 112th Congress has been rated as one of the most anti-environmental Congresses ever, with 31 votes to undermine Clean Water Act protections and a total of 247 anti-environmental votes since January of 2011.

We want to help make North Carolina and the entire Southeast a leader in the protection of land, air and water. We have before, when a truly grassroots movement moved the state legislature to pass the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002 — a law that requiring power plants to install technologies that reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other harmful emissions that we will continue to benefit from for years to come.

Sara Behnke, who visited Kay Hagan's office with us on her concern for her community's water: All we have to do is look at Kingston, Tennessee to see what would happen if either of the coal ash ponds were to fail. It would be catastrophic to our drinking water, our lake, the property values of those of us in the Mountain Island Lake community, and would likely cause loss of human life. I wanted to urge Senator Hagan to allow the EPA to put regulations in place to protect us and our drinking water.”

This month, a report by Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment was released detailing the benefits of early state action on environmental regulations of electric utilities focusing on the success of the Clean Smokestacks Act.

The report, titled “Benefits of Early State Action in Environmental Regulation of Electric Utilities,” describes just that by analyzing the positive impacts the Clean Smokestacks Act has had on North Carolina and the entire Southeast. The logic here is fairly simple, and 10 years in, environmental groups and the millions of tourists who enjoy clearer views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, aren’t the only ones praising North Carolina’s foresight in creating the Act — electric utilities have benefited too.

Not only did the Clean Smokestacks Act succeed in lowering emissions, the report says, it spread out compliance costs and created the potential for future savings if retrofit costs escalate. Not to mention lower emissions lead to improved air quality, creating savings to healthcare costs larger than potential increases in costs on family’s utility bills resulting from the act.

Appalachian Voices and our supporters rallied for the Clean Smokestacks Act in the early 2000s and continue to support proactive regulation of electric utilities that promote long-term economic stability. But most of all, we want healthier communities, communities not subject to poor air quality in order to afford to power their homes.

The success of initiatives like the Clean Smokestacks Act reflect on the importance of being prepared for the future through conscientious planning and timely implementation. Jobs are created, public health is improved and the value of smart long-term investments is realized. This is the message we’ll take to Charlotte and the Democratic National Convention next week.

From the fight to end mountaintop removal and the need for stronger regulation of coal ash pollution to the expanded use of renewables and adoption of energy efficiency strategies, the research is on our side. Reports such as the Nicholas School’s help us make our case to political leaders, the media and business leaders. But it’s our supporters who reach out to their representatives in state and federal governments that truly ensure that message is heard.

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