Landmark EPA Settlement Shows Clean Air Act Works to Clean Up Power Plants

On February 17th, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a landmark settlement with Environmental Defense, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), and the state of North Carolina that compels EPA to take action on a request by North Carolina to address upwind power plant pollution that contributes to North Carolina's unhealthy air quality. The settlement, combined with the power plant clean up standards under the near-final Clean Air Interstate Rule, shows that EPA can clean up harmful power plant pollution now under the existing Clean Air Act. Not only is the misguided "Clear Skies" legislation unnecessary, but it would severely curtail the rights of states such as North Carolina to protect citizens from upwind smokestack pollution.

"The Clean Air Act is the foundation for this landmark settlement that charts a course to clean up high-polluting power plant smokestacks across the Southeast and Midwest," said Michael Shore, Environmental Defense senior air policy analyst. "This settlement and the near-final Clean Air Interstate Rule put the nation on the right road to clean up unhealthy power plant pollution, while the Clear Skies legislation is simply the wrong road to follow."

"North Carolina has worked long and hard to improve the air quality in its own backyard, and the leadership of Attorney General Roy Cooper and Gov. Mike Easley deserves applause. EPA should follow North Carolina's lead and finalize federal rules to clean up dirty power plants. EPA's promised and long overdue Clean Air Interstate Rule can be strengthened and finalized with the stroke of a pen," said Shore.

Section 126 of the federal Clean Air Act grants states the right to petition the EPA Administrator to control pollution from upwind power plants that contribute significantly to unhealthy air in the receiving states. The settlement announced today is the result of a "good neighbor" petition filed by North Carolina in March 2004 asking EPA to cut sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen power plant pollution in 13 upwind states. EPA failed to act on North Carolina's petition by the Clean Air Act deadline, and SELC, on behalf of Environmental Defense, and the state North Carolina took separate legal actions under the Clean Air Act to compel EPA action.

"Right now, the air in nearly one-third of North Carolina's counties fails to meet the basic standards for human health," said Marily Nixon, SELC air quality attorney. "This settlement will allow us to protect the health of North Carolina's 8 million citizens by cleaning up pollution coming from power plants in 13 neighboring states."

The settlement was filed as a consent decree in federal district court in North Carolina and must undergo a 30-day public comment period before it can be given final approval by the court.

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