April 29, 2021

Secretary Dionne Delli-Gatti
Michael Abraczinskas, Director, Division of Air Quality
North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
217 West Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27603

Dear Secretary Delli-Gatti and Mr. Abraczinskas:

On behalf of the below-listed community, health, and conservation groups, we are concerned that North Carolina is heading toward violating its obligations under the Clean Air Act to restore visibility in protected areas like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Linville Gorge Wilderness, and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge. Should North Carolina not correct course as recommended below, the state will fall short of its duties under the Act, and it will miss an opportunity not only to improve conditions in these treasured places but also to achieve other benefits like protecting communities from harmful air pollution and reducing climate pollution. We ask that the Division of Air Quality promptly expand the list of sources from which it requests a four-factor reasonable progress review to include, at the least, Duke Energy’s coalfired power plants in North Carolina. This category of sources constitute North Carolina’s largest sector of visibility-harming air pollution. We also ask that DAQ request from sources analyses of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) pollution reduction options, instead of exclusively and improperly focusing only on sulfur dioxide (SO2). Many of our members live near these power plants and have lived with their air pollution harms for decades. The pollutants mentioned above contribute to or worsen asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses, and are linked with increased death rates from COVID-19.1Wu, X. et al., Air Pollution and COVID-19 Mortality in the United States: Strengths and Limitations of an Ecological Regression Analysis, SCIENCE ADVANCES, 6(45) (2020).

Yet DAQ has requested “four-factor analyses” of pollution control options from just three sources, none of which are power plants. This blinkered approach unreasonably takes possible visibility improvements off the table without even considering them.

The Clean Air Act’s regional haze provisions, 42 U.S.C. § 7491, protect public lands and communities from harmful air pollution by requiring states to make reasonable progress toward restoring natural visibility at designated national parks and wildlife refuges. Under this program, North Carolina must regularly assess its progress toward restoring visibility, analyze possible reductions from air pollution sources, and present an implementation plan that incorporates additional measures to improve visibility to EPA for approval.240 C.F.R. 51.308(d), (f). If the plan does not meet federal standards, EPA cannot approve it and must instead issue a federal implementation plan for the state.342 U.S.C. § 7410(c)(1).

Additionally, for the few sources DAQ is evaluating—the Blue Ridge Paper Products and Domtar Paper Company pulp and paper mills, and PCS Phosphate Company—the agency has only requested information about possible SO2 reductions, not NOx or PM. But these pollutants also seriously harm visibility and public health.4EPA, Guidance on Regional Haze State Implementation Plans for the Second Implementation Period, at 11 (Aug. 20, 2019).

Considering reductions of these additional pollutants is all the more important because the three companies are claiming that no further reductions of SO2 pollution are reasonable. We are reviewing the three four-factor analyses submitted to DAQ and have already identified several issues we would like to share with your staff soon. But the more fundamental problem with the state’s process is its simple refusal to even consider other pollutants and other sources.

It is not enough for DAQ to say it is merely following methodology and modeling it has developed in coordination with other Southeastern states (VISTAS). DAQ has the jurisdiction and authority to go above and beyond the restrictive, limited scope proposed through the VISTAS process to include a more thorough list of sources for consideration that better reflect pollution contributions to Class I areas. EPA has made clear that states must choose a reasonable methodology for selecting sources, and reasonably explain their decision.540 C.F.R. 51.308(f)(2); Draft Guidance on Progress Tracking Metrics, Long-term Strategies, Reasonable Progress Goals and Other Requirements for Regional Haze State Implementation Plans for the Second Implementation Period, at 72 (July 2016); See also Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n et al., Petition for Reconsideration of 2019 Guidance (May 8, 2020). EPA has recommended that states include sources that account for roughly 80 percent of visibility impacts.6Id. North Carolina’s selection of three sources is nowhere near this benchmark. Indeed, a reasonable approach would not only include coal-fired power plants but also capture additional non-coal sources throughout the state that significantly harm visibility, instead of the three sources the Division identified.

A threshold based on the percentage any single source contributes to visibility pollution at a Class I area is not reasonable where, as in the Southeast, hundreds of polluting sources each contribute to pollution.72019 Guidance, at 19. DAQ cannot justify an approach that leads it to look at just one pollutant, three sources, and zero coal-fired power plants. The agency must significantly lower the threshold it uses or adopt another approach entirely.

With the Clean Smokestacks Act, North Carolina made great strides toward reducing smog and
improving health for its residents and its neighbors. But now, it risks stalling out on future
progress. By failing to request any analyses from coal-fired power plants, or analyses of possible NOx or PM reductions from any sources, North Carolina is hamstringing its ability to achieve clear skies. It is also missing an opportunity to protect fenceline communities who bear the brunt of air pollution from these industrial facilities.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue. We would greatly appreciate a chance to meet to discuss these issues further with a subset of our groups.

Sincerely,

The undersigned organizations:

Leslie Griffith Staff Attorney
Southern Environmental Law Center
Chapel Hill, NC

Drew Ball
State Director
Environment North Carolina
Raleigh, NC

Brian Buzby
Executive Director
North Carolina Conservation Network
Raleigh, NC

Tom Cormons
Executive Director
Appalachian Voices
Boone, NC

Dr. Steven S. English
Doctor
Citizen of Charlotte
Charlotte, NC

Hannah Furgiuele
Program Director
Forest Keeper
Asheville, NC

Will Harlan
Senior Editor
Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine
Asheville, NC

Stephanie Kodish
Senior Director and Counsel,
Clean Air and Climate Programs
National Parks Conservation Association
Knoxville, TN

Julie Mayfield
Co-Director
MountainTrue
Asheville, NC

Rosa Mustafa
Member
Progressive Black Environmental Caucus
Charlotte, NC

Steven Pulliam
Dan Riverkeeper
Good Stewards of Rockingham
Stoneville, NC

Cynthia W. Satterfield
Acting State Director
North Carolina Sierra Club
Raleigh, NC
June Blotnik
Executive Director
Clean Air Carolina
Durham, NC

Carrie Clark
Executive Director
NC League of Conservation Voters Raleigh, NC

Emily Diznoff
Co-Director
I Heart Pisgah
Asheville, NC

Phil Francis
Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks Washington, DC

Rev. Gregory Hairston
President
Stokes County NAACP
Walnut Cove, NC

Tina Katsanos
Chair
The Climate RealityProject, Charlotte Charlotte, NC

Mickey Mahaffey
Program Manager
IndigenousRise
Asheville, NC

Steven McBride
Assistant Director
Friends of Big Ivy
Big Ivy, NC

Mike Pucci
Executive Director
Roanoke River Basin Association Danville, VA

Alfred Ripley
Director of the Consumer, Housing and Energy Project
North Carolina Justice Center Raleigh, NC

cc:
Jeremy Tarr, Senior Advisor for Climate Change Policy, Office of the Governor jeremy.tarr@nc.gov
Randy Strait, Planning Section Chief, DAQ
randy.strait@ncdenr.gov