The Clean Smokestacks Act, officially titled the Air Quality/Electric Utilities Act (SB 1078), requires significant actual emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. The act differs from federal rules, which allow utilities to buy pollution credits from other states instead of cutting air pollution from power plants in state.
Under the act, North Carolina's utilities must reduce actual emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from 245,000 tons in 1998 to 56,000 tons by 2009 (77% reduction). Utilities also must reduce actual sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 489,000 tons in 1998 to 250,000 tons by 2009 (49% reduction) and 130,000 tons by 2013 (73% reduction). This represents about a one-third reduction of the total NOx emissions and a one-half reduction of the total SO2 emissions from all sources in North Carolina.
The emission reductions will have health benefits for citizens of North Carolina and other states by significantly reducing pollution events that can trigger asthma and other respiratory problems.
The cuts in both SO2 and NOx emissions will reduce acid rain and serve as a significant step toward meeting the new fine particle and ozone standards throughout North Carolina.
Air pollution has reduced visibility in the Smoky Mountains from 93 miles to between 24 and 36 miles (National Park Service report, "Clearing the Air at Great Smoky Mountains National Park", September 1999). The act will help North Carolina reach its goal of improving visibility in the mountains and from other scenic vistas in North Carolina by reducing pollution from North Carolina sources that contribute to the problem. Because air pollutants from sources in other states significantly contribute to our mountain air quality problem, the act states an intention of using all means available to achieve air quality improvements in those states as well.
Reducing SO2 and NOx , using certain technologies, has the additional benefit of reducing mercury emissions. A statewide mercury advisory now warns against consumption of four ocean fish species and three freshwater fish species in the eastern half of North Carolina because of high mercury levels. The act also requires DENR to evaluate issues related to the control of mercury and carbon dioxide emissions and make recommendations on the development of standards and plans to control these emissions.
The act, along with the plan to expand and strengthen our motor vehicle inspection and maintenance program from nine to 48 counties, may be sufficient for North Carolina to meet the ozone and fine particle standards over broad areas of the state, and thereby may eliminate the need for additional local controls in these areas.