Environment

Citing climate change, health and environmental justice, DEQ sends letter to EPA opposing new federal air pollution rules

 

New federal environmental regulations could cause the premature deaths of 14,000 people in the US by 2030, equivalent to 10 Manteos, four Wilkesboros or one Roanoke Rapids.

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday unveiled its “Affordable Clean Energy Rule” — which in terms of human health and the climate, is neither affordable nor clean — allowing states to set their own limits for carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from coal-fired power plants.

While this gift pleased the coal and utilities industries, environmental groups, health advocates and more than a dozen states, including North Carolina, vigorously opposed the proposal.

North Carolina is one of 14 states that sent a letter to the EPA, detailing how the new rule “abandons its obligations under the Clean Air Act to ensure that state plans address dangerous air pollution from existing pollution sources,” reads the letter, signed by Secretary of the Environment Michael Regan ” … This proposal will endanger the health and welfare of our residents.”

Compared with the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan, over the next decade 470 to 1,400 people in the US could die prematurely each year. On the high end, that number is equivalent to the population of Manteo.

The EPA estimates that by 2030, the rule could cause 48,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma, and at least 21,000 new missed days of school a year. Emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter would increase, compared to the Clean Power Plan.

The Obama administration had proposed the Clean Power Plan, which would have strictly limited carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from coal-fired power plants. Opponents of the Clean Power Plan, including former North Carolina Secretary of the Environment Donald van der Vaart and Gov. Pat McCrory sued, and the proposal was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It never went into effect.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality also sent 14 pages of comments  detailing how the proposed rule would harm the state’s residents and economy. Among DEQ’s objections was the affects of climate change on the state and the new rule’s lack of concern for environmental justice.

Just in the past five years, climate change has contributed to stronger storms in eastern North Carolina, as well as drought and wildfires in the mountains. Scientists project that sea level rise, ranging from 1.9 inches to more than 10 on the northern coast could cause the loss of 5,000 buildings worth $923 million, and add 24,000 buildings and 350 square miles to the floodplain.

As for environmental justice, while the Clean Power Plan analysis found that a higher proportion of communities of color live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant, DEQ’s comments read in part, the new rule “claims that the overall distribution of health impacts will depend on how people ‘change their housing location choice in response to air quality changes,’ which fails to address the inability of low-income households to move due to the high costs associated with relocation.”

And since air emissions don’t recognize geographical and political boundaries, states with weak regulations could degrade the air quality of its neighbors, potentially setting up legal battles. This has already occurred: In 2006, then-Attorney General Roy Cooper successfully sued the Tennessee Valley Authority for creating a public nuisance: pollution from its coal-fired power plants that was blanketing the North Carolina mountains.

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