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The Canary Coalition
Copyright © 2000, 2001 The Canary Coalition, All Rights Reserved

a grassroots clean air movement

Letter to DAQ from the Environmental Community Demanding Denial of Permit to Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal-burning Power Plant

October 15, 2008

Governor Michael F. Easley

Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh , NC 27699-0301

Mr. William G. Ross, Jr., Secretary
North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources
1601 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1601

Mr. Keith Overcash, Director
North Carolina Division of Air Quality
1641 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-1641

Dear Governor Easley, Secretary Ross, and Mr. Overcash:

The undersigned organizations respectfully demand that Duke Energy's Title V permit for its expansion at Cliffside be denied upon review by the North Carolina Division of Air Quality this fall.  We urge you to exercise the full extent of your legal authority in review of the Title V permit and join the wave of agencies, officials and courts in other states that have denied permits for proposed coal-fired power plants.  The technology of burning coal to produce electricity is outdated, inefficient, a danger to public health and the environment and is no longer necessary to meet future energy demand in our state or in this region.  More specifically, we cite the following reasons for denying this permit.

1.     DAQ has the legal authority and moral responsibilities to deny the Title V permits to continue construction on the Cliffside Expansion.

Federal law allows states to develop regulations that exceed federal air quality standards but not for states to develop air quality regulations that are less stringent. On April 2, 2007, in Massachusetts vs. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Additionally, the Justices wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot refuse to regulate these pollutants for political reasons or in favor of extra-statutory policy preferences.  The NC Division of Air Quality is therefore bound by this same standard.

In Friends of the Chattahoochee, Inc. v. Couch, Dkt. No. 2008CV146398, June 30, 2008, a Georgia Superior Court held that an air pollution permit for a new coal-fired power plant in Georgia could be issued only after the permitting authority considered whether the plant proposed to implement Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for carbon dioxide emissions. The court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant “subject to regulation” under the Clean Air Act and therefore a major new source of carbon dioxide would be subject to a BACT analysis under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program. The court pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency as authority for its opinion.

In another example of states taking a strong stand on new coal plants, on October 18, 2007, the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment became the nation's first government agency to block a proposed coal-burning power plant on environmental grounds, saying it would be "irresponsible to ignore the contribution of carbon dioxide to climate change."

As you know, the new Cliffside expansion will double greenhouse gas production at the facility to six million tons of carbon dioxide annually. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that there must be an 80% reduction in man-made greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  This cannot be accomplished if we begin building a new generation of coal-burning power plants in the year 2008.

At least 41 coal-burning power plants in 23 states have been stopped over the past five years due to health, environmental or financial considerations and due to strong public opposition.  We urge you to join this group of states.  Granting this permit would be an abandonment of DAQ's responsibility as the state agency mandated to protect air quality and it would be a contradiction of its mission to safeguard public health and the environment.

2.  Cliffside does not meet federal mercury MACT standards.

The DAQ has acknowledged that the Cliffside Title V permit issued last January does not meet federal mercury MACT standards.  Yet, construction activity continues at the plant. This continued work under an invalid permit is unacceptable, particularly given the dangers of mercury and the uncertainty of whether Duke Energy will be able to meet a MACT-based mercury limitation. As you know, mercury toxicity has been directly linked to neurological damage in fetuses, autism and learning disabilities in young children. Further, the Center for Disease Control has warned that one in eight pregnant women has unsafe levels of mercury in breast milk. Mercury continues to bio-accumulate in our environment becoming more dangerous with each passing year. Higher concentrations of methyl mercury are being detected in large species of seafood, and, smaller species of sea fish are also showing high levels of mercury contamination.  Methyl mercury contamination has also become a significant problem in fresh water fish. For example walleye in the lakes of western North Carolina have been designated as unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination.

3. The original permit was granted under false pretense by Duke Energy.

Duke Energy applied for its Cliffside permit claiming the need for increased generating capacity to meet projected growth in energy demand from a growing population in North Carolina . However, it has come to light that Duke Energy is making a concerted effort to expand its market outside of its area of monopoly into other states. The Cliffside plant is part of this business plan to create and sell a surplus of energy to an expanded market, outside our state, to increase corporate profits at the expense of the health and environment of the people of North Carolina . The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has no obligation to see that Duke Energy succeeds in this plan.  Rather, its first obligation is to the health of the people and environment of the State of North Carolina .

4. The Cliffside permit ignores the reality of a shortage in fresh water supply.

The Cliffside plant will evaporate 21 million gallons of fresh water every day for cooling purposes. This doubles the water usage of the existing facility. During the current period of extreme drought, the DAQ unlawfully granted the original Cliffside permit without analyzing the impacts of water usage on plant reliability and on downstream users.  It's probable that water shortages will prohibit the full-time operation of the new Cliffside plant in order to avoid severe impacts on downstream aquatic wildlife. There may not even be enough water to cool the plant during periods of severe drought-induced water shortage.  We urge you to fully analyze the plant’s impact on water availability, particularly in times of drought.

We also cite the following concerns and urge you to be aware of them even if they are not necessarily a part of the DAQ's formal review process.

1. The Cliffside permit ignores the health, environmental and social consequences of mountaintop removal coal mining.

More than 450 Appalachian mountaintops have been leveled during the process of mountaintop removal coal mining in recent years, some by as much as 1000 feet. These ancient and unique formations have been systematically dynamited and flattened by enormous earth-moving equipment, with soil, rocks, and former water-ways pushed indiscriminately into the valleys below with total abandonment of environmental responsibility for the purpose of extracting coal to burn in power plants.  Sludge ponds held by precarious dams built on the loose fill-dirt of the projects, containing high concentrations of toxic chemicals - lead, mercury, arsenic and more - from the mining and refining processes, loom ominously hundreds of feet above towns, schools, and playgrounds. During torrential rainfalls these dams have overflowed or failed completely, sending their poisonous content pouring down into the streets and rivers below.  Coal extracted in such a fashion can never be called "clean coal."

2. Investment in Cliffside is a misuse of ratepayer and taxpayer funds.

Duke Energy has projected a cost of $2.3 billion dollars to build the new Cliffside power plant.  This money will come from ratepayers and taxpayers who will bear the brunt of the health and environmental consequences while corporate shareholders are being subsidized without risk.  This huge investment of capital resources will commit western North Carolina to another 50-60 years of coal burning resulting in more childhood asthma, acid rain, haze, excess nitrogen deposition, mercury toxicity and greenhouse gas production.  These financial resources should be used instead to transform our energy system into a more modern, efficient, distributed, renewable and sustainable system.

3. Clean, safer, less expensive options are available.

When health and environmental costs are included in the evaluation, coal is the most expensive and cumbersome option available for meeting future energy demand.  Strong economic incentives that promote energy efficiency and conservation are the most cost effective options with the least impact on our health and environment. Great advancements have been achieved in wind, solar, geothermal, micro-hydro, wave, tidal and energy storage technologies that render coal practically and financially obsolete. 

Title V Permit and Mercury MACT Analysis Public Comment Process

On September 29, 2008 DAQ released the Draft Title V permit for the Cliffside facility. Earlier this year DAQ announced there would be a process for public evaluation of the mercury MACT analysis for Cliffside Unit 6. We ask that these two separate processes be combined into one public process and that there be a series of public hearings held throughout the state in the major urban areas of Charlotte , Raleigh , Winston-Salem , Wilmington , Greenville and Asheville .

In October, 2007, the only public hearing on the PSD permit for Cliffside was held in remote Forest City , avoiding fair access to a representative cross-section of the state's population affected by emissions from the plant and to many mainstream news media outlets.  A repeat of this limited and inadequate process is unacceptable. The profound health and environmental impacts felt by all people in North Carolina from the burning of coal merit an opportunity for universal public access to the hearing process.


Clearly, the DAQ has the legal authority to deny the Cliffside Title V permit if it chooses to exercise its regulatory discretionary power in that way.  The North Carolina Division of Air Quality is at a crossroads where its administration must decide whether it is a true advocate for clean air and public health or a rubber stamp for the utility industry it is supposed to be regulating.

The overwhelming evidence is that Cliffside will be harmful to public health and the environment for decades to come. The stakes are too high to ignore the moral imperative to do no harm. Please do not violate the public trust again. The lives of all future generations will be impacted by your decisions.


Abigail Singer, Asheville Rising Tide, 828-280-3462

Avram Friedman, Canary Coalition, 828-631-3447

June Blotnick, Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, 704-342-9161

Margie Ellison, Grassroots Energy Alliance , (919) 837-8738

Elaine Lite, Mountain Voices Alliance , 828-255-8537

Lynice Williams , NC Fair Share, (919) 786-7474

Jill Rios , NC Interfaith Power & Light, A program of the NC Council of Churches, 828-252-1794

Jim Warren , NC Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, 919-416-5077

Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, 828-675-1792

Russ Anderson , Southern Energy Network, 229-269-1986

Julie Mayfield, Western North Carolina Alliance , 828-258-8737

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