Due to the amazing work of students and organizers, The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is revisiting the permitting process for Duke Energy’s proposed Cliffside coal facility.
Last Thursday, students from North Carolina spearheaded a national call-in day to the offices of Governor Mike Easley and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers to stop Duke Energy from constructing a new 800 mega-watt coal-fired power plant in Cliffside, NC. Their efforts garnered over 500 calls to the governor’s office and similar numbers to the Jim Rogers’ direct line at Duke Energy. On the same day, two other students from North Carolina dressed as polar bears were arrested while blockading the entrance to Duke Energy’s headquarters in Charlotte.
Over the weekend, the momentum continued to build. Dr. James Hansen of NASA spoke to a crowd of over 700, including Jim Rogers, in uptown Charlotte Friday evening and to a jam-packed auditorium in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon.
“The physics of the problem tells us that we cannot put the carbon from all that coal into the atmosphere,” he said. “It just hasn’t sunk into policy makers.” Hansen also wrote N.C. air-quality officials in opposing the Cliffside expansion earlier this fall.
As a result of the momentum created by the call-ins, the direct action, and the Hansen events, the North Carolina DAQ is re-evaluating the Cliffside permit, paying particular attention to the issue of mercury pollution. Coal plants emit 40 percent of the mercury released in the U.S. Mercury is of highest concern because of the known effects the neurotoxin has on women of childbearing age and children. Highly toxic mercury has tainted fish across Eastern North Carolina and already threatens to permanently impair thousands of babies each year. North Carolina advises pregnant women and children under 15 to moderate the number of freshwater fish species caught anywhere east of Interstate 85 (Eastern North Carolina waters more readily form methyl mercury than other waters) and largemouth bass caught anywhere in the state.
The existing facility at Cliffside released 140 pounds of mercury in 2005, according to state records. Duke’s own numbers project a 10-fold increase in mercury emissions from the proposed plant over 2005 mercury emissions from the existing units, as well as 13 to 50-fold increases in releases of other toxic metals like arsenic and cadmium. For more information on the toxic pollutants associated with Cliffside, visit Clean Water for North Carolina).
This re-evaluation is a huge step and marks a victory for the newly formed North Carolina Student Climate Coalition. With only a few months under it’s belt as a coalition, these North Carolina students join the ranks of others around the country forming state and regional networks to fight climate change.
The momentum the NCSCC and other state coalitions have created in such a short time is really phenomenal. Way to go ya’ll!