For Immediate Release, September 17, 2019


Perrin de Jong, Center for Biological Diversity, (828) 595-1862,
Melissa Williams, Sierra Club, (828) 545-0443,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Students, Chapel Hill-Carrboro from UNC’s Coal Plant Pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The violations, in large part, result from the University’s ongoing use of two outdated coal-burning boilers. UNC’s power-plant emissions have violated the Clean Air Act on dozens of occasions in recent years, according to the legal notice.

“UNC’s coal plant is spewing harmful pollution that can trigger asthma attacks, hospitalizations and even premature deaths,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center in North Carolina. “A university that touts itself as the state’s leading public research institution is ignoring irrefutable evidence that its dirty coal emissions harm students, athletes and local residents.”

Investigations by the Center uncovered violations of pollution control requirements at the UNC plant, including limits on the amount of coal permitted to be burned. Other violations include UNC’s failure to satisfy pollution-monitoring obligations and false compliance certifications to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality and federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A Center analysis based on expert air-quality modeling found that the existing permit for UNC’s coal plant allows the university to emit four to six times the limits of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution allowed under the Clean Air Act. These models indicate that the entire campus, including outdoor athletic facilities, and several residential neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro may be affected by this harmful pollution.

In addition UNC’s coal-burning power plant emits brain-damaging mercury and lead, as well as hydrochloric acid. UNC gets its coal from Appalachia, where damaging mining practices poison streams critical to the survival of a variety of wildlife, including endangered species.

“It’s well past time for UNC to stop polluting the air the community breathes with toxic coal pollution,” said Dave Rogers, deputy regional campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Frankly, as a part of a Tar Heel family, I find it embarrassing that the university continues to burn coal at all. UNC should use this notice as an opportunity to move beyond coal and embrace cleaner technologies to meet its electricity and steam needs.”

In 2017 the university reneged on its 2010 pledge to stop burning coal. It is the only institution of higher learning in North Carolina still operating a coal-fired power plant.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.