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DENR Takes Action to Protect its State Air Plan

DENR is taking action to protect North Carolina’s successful air quality program and its growing renewable energy industry by bringing suit against EPA’S Final Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) Rule. The unjustified and legally flawed rule finds that federally-approved State Implementation Plans (SIP) in North Carolina and 35 other states do not meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Sixteen states joined DENR in the suit filed on Aug. 11. EPA’s Final SSM Rule revises its previous approval of provisions related to emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunction and is not based on any scientific demonstration or documented failure of our existing state plan.

 

This about-face on the part of EPA comes at a time when North Carolinians are breathing cleaner air than in the more than four decades since the passage of the Clean Air Act. Our SIP has been so successful that for the first time since 1997, North Carolina meets all federal air quality ambient standards in all parts of the state.  

 

Much of North Carolina’s success is due to the fact that the state also has one of the cleanest and most efficient power fleets in the nation. Since 2005, we have retired more than 40 coal-fired units and replaced them with natural gas units, and equipped the remaining coal-fired units with state of the art control technology.  These changes dramatically reduced NOx and SO2 emissions by more than 80% but cost ratepayers nearly $6 billion.

 

EPA’s curious reversal could have a devastating impact on North Carolina’s robust renewable energy industry. The rule will make coal and gas plants unavailable when solar and wind fail to provide electricity. Much like driving a car in the city versus on the highway, the more frequent cycling of the plant and less efficient operation reduces its fuel efficiency and increases its emissions.  If EPA prevents startup and shutdown of the coal and gas-fired plants, cycling brown-outs could occur when the intermittent power generation of solar and wind facilities are unavailable.

 

EPA’s Final SSM Rule does not demonstrate that North Carolina’s SIP is inconsistent with the CAA, nor does it acknowledge our achievements in improving air quality across the state. Rather, it capitulates to the “sue and settle” special interest groups, undermines our accomplishments in improving our environment, and impairs our ability to ensure reliable, affordable energy resources for all North Carolinians.

 

DENR General Counsel Sam M. Hayes will represent the department as special counsel pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §147-17, and counsel of record in the action, which was filed today in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

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