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Northern states want feds to force pollution reductions on smog from NC and other states

Democratic governors of Northern states urged federal officials on Monday to force air pollution reductions in North Carolina and eight other states, saying citizens up North are choking on incoming smog from the South and the Rust Belt.

The governors say that on hazy summer days as much as 95 percent of their air pollution comes from the other states, including North Carolina. They are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on power plants, industrial facilities and automobile traffic here and in other states that send foul air across state lines.

“We’re sick and tired of being the tailpipe to the polluters to our west and south,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in Monday’s announcement. “These emissions create acid rain as well as dirty air. It’s killing fish in our lakes and streams.”

The dispute mirrors North Carolina’s own lengthy battle to curb dirty air belched by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal-burning power plants and transported here by air currents. That fight ended two years ago with the TVA agreeing to mothball aging coal plants, add pollution controls to others, and pay North Carolina $11.2 million.

On the receiving end of such allegations, however, North Carolina is resisting the cleanup effort of New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and their partners. Officials here say North Carolina has already done its duty in cleaning up dirty power plants and can’t be blamed for the stinging eyes, inflamed lungs and other health problems experienced elsewhere.

“North Carolina is an insignificant or minor contributor to ozone in the downwind states,” said Tom Mather, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “The modeling does not fully account for substantial emissions reductions achieved by N.C.’s Clean Smokestacks Act, which has resulted in emissions reductions of greater than 80 percent since the late 1990s.”

DENR Secretary John Skvarla III said in a June letter that North Carolina wouldn’t join the northern states to reduce sources of wind-borne pollution. He said the consequences of such an effort for North Carolina would be stricter emissions standards for power plants and vehicles.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who led the charge against TVA’s pollution, was unavailable for comment Monday. Cooper, a Democrat, is expected to run for governor in 2016.

Ground-level ozone, the primary ingredient in smog, forms in hot weather when nitrous oxide from smokestacks and exhaust pipes mixes with volatile organic compounds in the air. Ozone is associated with wheezing, gasping and other breathing difficulties on summer days with poor air quality.

The EPA has 18 months to decide how to deal with the petition to control airborne pollution coming from states hundreds of miles away. The request was filed a day before the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments, on Tuesday, about the EPA’s authority to regulate air pollution that crosses state lines. In the Supreme Court case, which is not related to Monday’s petition, North Carolina supports the EPA’s position.

Of the eight polluting states, which include Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee, North Carolina is the smallest contributor of dirty air that floats northward, acknowledged George “Tad” Aburn, director of Maryland’s Air and Radiation Management Administration. Indeed, North Carolina’s electric utilities have spent $2.9 billion retrofitting their power plants with scrubbers as part of the state’s landmark 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act.

“We led by example and created a model for the nation,” said Molly Diggins, Sierra Club’s director for North Carolina. “If we are in fact contributing (pollution), we should address it.”

The pollution data cited in Monday’s petition to the EPA is from 2010, before North Carolina saw the closure of seven coal-burning units totaling more than 2,700 megawatts of power.

North and South Carolina were targeted by a similar petition in 1997. Eight Northeastern states claimed pollution from 22 downwind states hurt their ability to meet a federal ozone standard. The EPA ordered power plants and large industrial boilers here to reduce ozone-forming pollutants.

Murawski: 919-829-8932
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