Cliffside Must Clean Up: Court Finds Violations of Clean Air Act

Federal court decision upholds concerns over toxic emissions from plant expansion and closes pollution loopholes

ASHEVILLE, NC (December 2, 2008) - A federal court ruling today will force Duke Energy to meet stringent Clean Air Act requirements for control of hazardous air pollution from the 800-megawatt addition to its Cliffside coal-fired power plant. The judge sided with conservation groups challenging Duke’s failure to obtain pollution limits that would adequately control toxic air pollution. The decision is particularly important as it closes what had been perceived as a loophole that allowed similar plants to skirt pollution requirements.

The decision will force Duke to undergo a stringent process to investigate the plant’s likely pollution levels and the appropriate technology to control toxics released from the massive new coal boiler. This process must begin within 10 days and result in controls that live up to the strict requirements of the Clean Air Act within 60 days. If they do not comply, the court could halt construction on the plant.

The court’s decision clearly rejected Duke Energy’s arguments that their plant had slipped through a loophole allowing them to avoid federal pollution controls. Additionally, the court rejected assertions that Duke could substitute voluntary efforts for the mandatory requirements of the Clean Air Act and Duke’s last-minute claims that the plant’s emissions were too small to require additional controls.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Southern Environmental Law Center represented Environmental Defense Fund, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in the case. The groups represent thousands of North Carolina residents, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains and other nearby natural areas already affected by pollution from Cliffside.

The ruling is available online at

Following are reactions from the groups involved:

“The court confirmed that building a coal-fired plant without proper controls for mercury and dozens of other hazardous air pollutants is wholly unacceptable,” said John Suttles, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). “This decision about Duke’s North Carolina power plant should have people around the country breathing a big sigh of relief.”

"The trend against dirty coal-fired power plants is becoming clear,” said Ben Longstreth, a Senior Attorney for NRDC. “The Court rejected Duke’s efforts to sidestep the stringent control of mercury and other hazardous toxins. This forces them to do the right thing for communities all over North Carolina by living up to the Clean Air Act.” 

"We are pleased with the court’s rejection of Duke's arguments," said Stephen Smith executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "Now it is time for Jim Rogers to stop building coal plants and focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy to power North Carolina into the 21st century."

“This ruling is particularly significant because other coal plant proponents around the country are attempting the same dodge that Duke tried here,” said Patrice Simms, Senior Attorney for NRDC. “This decision sends a strong signal that it is time for these other plants to stop playing games and come into compliance with these important clean air requirements.”