NC officials sue EPA over stricter air pollution standards

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2014 

North Carolina’s environmental regulators have sued federal environmental officials over stricter rules to limit a harmful form of air pollution called particulate matter.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources – which has adopted economic development as part of its mission under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory – says federal emissions standards hamper North Carolina’s economic prospects.

“It would hurt North Carolina’s ability to attract industry to the state,” said DENR spokesman Tom Mather.

The lawsuit, filed in federal appeals court in Washington, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stricter rules are based on a misreading of federal law regarding air emissions.

The issue “is of critical economic importance to North Carolina,” DENR Secretary John Skvarla III said in a letter to the EPA. The letter was part of an exchange between the two environmental agencies and preceded the Dec. 26 lawsuit by eight months.

The disagreement has to do with emissions of particulate matter, the fine, dust-sized particles that float through the air and are absorbed into the lungs. In 2010, the EPA changed the point in time from which it would count particulate increases, moving the baseline from 1975 to 2010.

The EPA standard applies to particulate pollution emitted by newly developed projects or by industry expansions.

The move is significant to North Carolina because the state’s pollution was considerably more severe in 1975 than it is now, in large part because of the state’s 2002 Clean Smokestack Act.

If the 1975 baseline were in place, North Carolina would have greater leeway to pollute, because emissions have dropped considerably since, and it would take a considerable amount of factories and industrial plants to get the state back to 1970s particulate levels.

As Skvarla put it in his April letter to the EPA: “Reductions in emissions after the baseline date expand increment, thus allowing for increased economic development.”

Seth Johnson, a lawyer with EarthJustice in Washington, said the state was siding with polluters in filing the lawsuit.

“This ends up helping people who want to pollute more,” Johnson said.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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