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President Obama’s move Monday to allow states to set vehicle emission standards may be a breath of fresh air–quite literally– for North Carolina, where an estimated 40 percent of smog-forming emissions and 34 percent of global warming emissions in our air comes from cars and trucks.

In a sweeping set of directives, President Barack Obama acted aggressively to address global warming and modernize the ailing domestic auto industry by ordering quick action on increased fuel-efficiency standards and swift review of the long-standing request of California and 14 other states for permission to put in place stricter tailpipe standards to reduce global warming emissions.

As of now– once federal permission is granted– 15 states are poised to enjoy cleaner air by virtue of having enacted legislation adopting tailpipe standards that are more stringent than current federal regulations.  There’s no longer any reason for North Carolina not to be among that group.

In 2002, North Carolina proudly passed the Clean Smokestacks bill, which addressed air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  At the 2002 Governors’ Summit on Air Quality in Charlotte, then Governor Mike Easley said it was time now to clean up the cars.  “We have to remember we all came here riding in our own little smokestacks,”  he said.

Legislation has previously been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly that would have our state join the growing number of others states seeking cleaner emission standards, but legislators took a wait and see approach to how EPA would respond to the request of other states for a federal waiver.

Legislators may find of interest a recent NC Division of Air Quality report showing that adopting the California clean car standard would reduce global warming pollution 40% over and beyond the benefits of increased federal fuel economy standards.  That’s good news for a state found to be among the most vulnerable in the nation to the adverse impacts of global warming. 

The national winds are blowing in favor of cleaning up global warming pollution from cars and trucks.  The question now is– will North Carolina join other future-minded states and adopt clean cars legislation?

 

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Kure BeachThis morning as the mercury soared toward the 100 degree mark, I found myself thinking about North Carolina’s beaches and wishing I was at the coast like my lucky co-worker who’s spending the week at Ocean Isle. So when I came across the annual report release this week by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on beach water quality, I quickly flipped through to the section about North Carolina.

Here’s what I learned:

  • North Carolina has 241 public coastal beaches stretching 415 miles along the Atlantic waters of the barrier islands. 38% (92 beaches) are on the ocean side.
  • Seventeen counties have marine coastline, and all have at least one beach that is monitored.
  • The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) has been monitoring beach water quality since 1997.
  • The state spends approximately $240,000 annually to monitor beaches weekly April through October.
  • Only 2% of the water samples taken from ocean beaches exceeded water safety standards (versus beaches in other parts of the country that had 50%-60% of samples exceed safe standards).

Based on its findings, NRDC announces the best and worst beaches for protecting beachgoers from contaminated waters. This year, North Carolina had 2 beach communities named among the top 13 “beach buddies”: Kure Beach and Kill Devil Hills Beach. Communities who were named as “beach buddies” monitored beach water quality regularly, violated public health standards less than 10 percent of the time, and took significant steps to reduce pollution.

We’re lucky. North Carolina has fantastic natural resources. Let’s show our appreciation for them by keeping up efforts to fight pollution and conserve open spaces.

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The UNC School of Public Health conducted two studies looking at the health effects on communities neighboring industrial hog facilities.

The first study, Race, Poverty, and Hog Facilities in North Carolina reports that

Low-income schools in communities of mostly people of color had industrial hog facilities within 3 miles more often than schools in mostly white and high-income communities. As distance from the nearest hog facility increased, so did white enrollment and income level of the school.

The second study, Adolescent Asthma Symptoms and Industrial Hog Facilities found a large number of students at schools near hog facilities suffered breathing problems.

At schools near hog facilities:

  • 7% more students reported that a doctor told them they had asthma
  • 7% more students used asthma medication
  • 6% more students visited doctors or emergency rooms or were hospitalized for asthma

Technology exists to reduce the impact of hog pollution. North Carolinians do not need to suffer harmful health effects from exposure to hog facility pollution. The House and Senate have recommended legislation that would prohibit open hog lagoons and provide assistance to farmers in the form of grants to help them upgrade their waste systems but Smithfield Foods is blocking this legislation that would put clean technologies on hog farms in NC. Shame on Smithfield Foods for putting corporate profits ahead of community health. 

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lungsNorth Carolinians won’t be breathing easier any time soon. Yesterday, the House failed to pass a measure that would restrict smoking in public and work places. The bill (HB 259) sponsored by Rep. Hugh Holliman failed on a vote of 61:55.

In addition to battling second-hand smoke indoors, North Carolinians are battling increased particle pollution outdoors. A new report, “American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007 ” shows a troubling trend of higher soot levels in the eastern US.

Particle pollution comes from many sources. The particles are usually a complex mixture that can include ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals, and aerosols.  In the eastern U.S., many particles come from power plants that burn coal to produce electricity. In the western U.S., many come from diesel buses, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as agriculture and wood burning.

The report gives 4 North Carolina counties a failing grade for particle pollution: Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake. Air quality in other areas of the state was only slightly better. People most sensitive to poor air quality are children and teens, the elderly, people with asthma and other lung diseases and even healthy people who work or exercise outdoors. In North Carolina, 6.4 million people are at risk of having lung problems as a result of poor air quality.

“The increased particle pollution in the East is a particularly troubling trend, because exposure to particle pollution can not only take years off your life, it can  threaten your life immediately,” said Terri E. Weaver, PhD, RN, American Lung Association Chair.

Rep. Holliman and the other legislators who supported the smoking ban should be commended for their efforts to protect our air quality and our health. Hopefully, they will continue with their efforts. The state needs to do everything in its power to curb air pollution, indoors and outdoors so we can all breath easier.