Second public comment period opens for air pollution permit

Amanda Moss Richmond County Daily Journal

October 17, 2013

The door is about to open for additional public comment on a request by Duke Energy Progress for an expanded air permit for its Hamlet operation.

The utility’s stated intent, according to the permit application, is to increase the levels of air pollution in order to allow the plan to operate at full capacity. Kate Dunnagan, community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, emailed The Daily Journal Thursday with information from the North Carolina Department Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Air Quality (DAQ).

That digital packet of information included a draft of the permit under consideration. In addition, the information from DAQ’s Kathy Hash, an information processing agent, included the periods of additional public comment for this phase of the process. This second public comment period began Friday. Comments will be accepted through Nov. 17.

The draft permit is now available to the public. It is available online at the DAQ website, Click on “public notices,” then “October” and then choose Oct. 18. The draft and review documents both are available to download.

The draft permit made it seem as if the state agency had all but approved the permit. Dunnagan agreed.

“It certainly does sound like it,” Dunnagan said.

The email also included letters from the DAQ’s environmental program manager and the legal notice that was published in Friday’s Daily Journal.

According to the notice, the permit application has been reviewed by the DAQ to determine the requirements of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission’s air pollution regulations. This preliminary review led the DAQ to determine that the project can be approved.

Louis Zeller, executive director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, conducted a study concerning the potential ramifications of approving the permit. The league was the only environmental agency that spoke during previous public comment period that ended Sept. 9, Zeller said.

The permit is seeking to increase the operations of five combustion turbines from 2,000 hours to 8,760 hours annually, Zeller said.

“This will increase the levels of toxins in the air drastically,” said Zeller.

Donald R. van der Varrt, the DAQ’s environmental program manager, said in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on behalf of DAQ, that this project would result in significant increases in the emissions of toxins such as nitrogen dioxide.

“Now that the permit has been approved, there will be another public comment period,” said Zeller. “It is standard procedure. The problem is the permit isn’t really accessible to the average reader, and it should be.”

Zeller is encouraging locals to take a look at the permit so that they could have a say in what is going on. Dunnagan suggested residents should demand a public hearing.

“It would be good for people in Richmond County to request a public hearing,” she said.

Those that wish to submit written comments or a written request for a public hearing are welcome to do so. The comments and requests must be postmarked no later than Nov. 17, 2013 and addressed to Rahul Thaker, NC DENR Division of Air Quality, 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641.