N.C. wants states to be neighborly

North Carolina wants federal air regulators to require power plants to cut pollution that is wafting into the state and is renewing a legal bid to force 13 states to curb pollution.

The state attorney general and two environmental organizations filed a motion Monday asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for an immediate hearing.

The filing revives a long-running legal battle that state Attorney General Roy Cooper has had with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over federal policy for combating air pollution from surrounding states.

“North Carolina is leading the fight for clean air because it's critical to our health and our economy,” Cooper said Monday in an interview. “Our petition to the EPA, coupled with our lawsuit against TVA, can reduce significantly the air pollution coming into our state from coal-fired utility smokestacks.”

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emitted from power plants form fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause breathing problems. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to ground-level ozone, commonly called smog.

In 2004, North Carolina's attorney general first filed a petition under the “good neighbor” provision of the federal Clean Air Act. The law requires states to prevent their emissions from harming another state's air. About a third of North Carolina's counties do not meet federal standards for ozone or fine particle pollution, and Cooper's office contends a main culprit is out-of-state emissions.

North Carolina asked the EPA to declare that pollution from 13 Southeastern and Midwestern states contributes to North Carolina's air problems and require reductions. In 2005, the EPA denied the petition, ruling that broader federal air regulations – the Clean Air Interstate Rule – would cut pollution in 28 Eastern states and relieve the concerns raised by North Carolina.

The state and environmental groups appealed. But a federal court put the appeal on hold in February while it considered a separate challenge to the national pollution regulations that dealt with similar air issues.

Last month, the appeals court struck down the broader federal air regulations designed by the Bush administration, saying they were flawed.

North Carolina was among the parties that had challenged parts of the rules – raising the ire of some environmentalists who considered the administration's flawed rules better than none at all.

In its decision, the court said states still had the option of petitioning the EPA to gain relief from pollution blowing across borders from neighboring states.