Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 27, 2022


Perrin de Jong, (828) 252-4646,

Under Pressure From EPA, North Carolina Moves to Comply With Clean Air Act Requirement for Deciding on Permits in 18 Months

State Failed for Years to Finalize Air Permit for UNC’s Coal-Fired Power Plant

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The North Carolina Division of Air Quality has proposed a rule requiring state regulators to issue decisions on air-pollution permits within 18 months, as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

The change comes after the Center for Biological Diversity challenged outdated state air-pollution permits for the University of North Carolina’s coal-fired power plant and petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to require state officials to comply with federal law.

“Enforcing this Clean Air Act deadline is vitally important for protecting North Carolinians and wildlife from unhealthy air pollution,” said Perrin de Jong, a North Carolina-based staff attorney at the Center. “The failure of state regulators to enforce basic clean-air requirements has left Orange County residents vulnerable to years of dangerous air pollution from UNC’s coal plant. This rule should put an end to that reckless practice.”

In 2019 the Center petitioned the EPA to compel North Carolina to correct a 23-year-old flaw in its air-pollution permit program. A provision in the state’s permitting regulations allowed state air-pollution regulators to sit indefinitely on an application for a new or renewed permit without making a decision to grant or deny it. The Clean Air Act requires the state to make a final decision within 18 months of receipt of a permit application by a polluter.

Following the Center’s petition, the EPA persuaded North Carolina to implement the 18-month deadline. The state’s air-quality division has now proposed to change its air-permit regulations to respect that deadline.

The Center determined that the state’s flawed permit program posed a major threat to public health after the state agency failed, for six years, to take action on a controversial permit-renewal application for UNC-Chapel Hill’s coal-burning power plant. Without a new permit, the public was left in the dark as to whether UNC was complying with two new pollution-control requirements designed to protect the public and the environment from dangerous soot and toxic air pollutants like mercury and carbon monoxide.

“This is a win for the health of all North Carolinians and a vindication for all those who’ve suffered from UNC’s coal pollution and worried that state regulators are too cozy with UNC,” said de Jong. “Now it’s time for North Carolina regulators to make sure public health, not the convenience of polluters, is the priority.”

The public can comment on the proposed rule changes through March 21. State regulators will hold a telephonic and online public hearing on the proposal at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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