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Conservation Groups: A Win for Clean Air in NC

January 24, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, N. C. – North Carolina residents should breathe a little easier after a settlement between Duke Energy and conservation groups. The power company has agreed to begin phasing out more than 1600 megawatts of coal-fired power. The system-wide changes were spurred by construction of a new unit at Duke's Cliffside power plant, which will now operate under the strictest controls in the United States for acid gas that causes air pollution.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) helped negotiate the settlement, and senior attorney John Settles explains why his clients had concerns.

"Coal-fired power plants are some of the biggest sources of air pollution human beings have ever devised. Cliffside Unit 6 is no exception."

Settles says the acid gases from coal-fired power production can cause eye, nose and respiratory inflammation, among other health issues. Duke says the reduction of coal use across its system will be complete by the end of 2020.

The settlement also requires that Duke Energy demonstrate it is using the highest possible standards to prevent toxic air pollution from being released during a plant malfunction. Settles says that's important because coal-fired power plants can be long-term pollution concerns.

"Once built, these things operate for decades; the current fleet has been in operation for 30, 40 and 50 or more years. So, it's really important to get things right."

According to the SELC, there are more than 400 coal-fired and oil-fired power plants nationwide that together, emit more than 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants. In some studies, the pollution has been linked to cancer, heart disease and birth defects.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC