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North Carolina sues EPA to compel action on ozone complaint

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North Carolina sues EPA to compel action on ozone complaint

Anew lawsuit filed byNorth Carolina environmental regulators is intended to compel the U.S. EPA toact on a complaint that alleged the state and others are contributing to ozonepollution in the Northeast.

NineNortheastern states in December 2013 petitioned the EPA to expand the ozonetransport region to include Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina,Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The expansion would effectivelyrequire operators in those states to install emissions controls on their powerplants, which North Carolina called "unnecessary and expensive."

Theaccused states responded in February 2014 by asking the EPA to dismiss thecomplaint, and the agency has yet to respond. The North Carolina Department ofEnvironmental Quality now has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court forthe Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division in an effort to forcethe agency to take action to approve or deny the original petition. The EPA has18 months under the Clean Air Act to act on such a petition, and while thefederal agency has not done so, it did acknowledge in March 2014 receiving therebuttal from the accused states.

"NorthCarolina is a leader in cleaning up its energy sector," NCDEQ GeneralCounsel Sam Hayes said in a news release March 30. "The Northeasternstates' petition was nothing more than a political attempt to shift the blamefor poor air quality in the Northeast."

TheNortheastern states are New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland,Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Thosestates are members of the ozone transport region, which requires them to submitstate implementation plans and install a certain level of controls for thepollutants that form ozone — even if they themselves meet the standards — toprotect downwind states.

Thegovernor of any member state can petition the EPA to add a state or portion ofa state into the ozone transport region, which is what the Northeastern statesrequested in 2013. The EPA administrator can only add the states as requestedif she determines that the interstate transport of ozone pollution "contributessignificantly" to a violation of the National Ambient Air QualityStandards, under which ozone is regulated.