Action Alerts  

Protection of Class I areas

NC Governor Jim Hunt agreed to sign the MOU (memorandum of understanding) in December but with conditions.  The comments below outline our position.  The issue will come before the NC Environmental Management Commission in February.  Letters to the Governor with copies to Bill Holman needed NOW.

PO Box 88  ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629
Phone 336-982-2691 ~ Fax 336-982-2954 ~ Email

October 30, 1998

William Holman, Assistant Secretary
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
PO Box 27687
Raleigh, NC 27611-7657

Dear Bill:

On behalf of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League Board of Directors, I write in favor of North Carolina’s entering into an agreement on permitting procedures with federal land managers for the protection of Class I areas.  We urge the governor to approve the pending agreement between the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the US Departments of Interior and Agriculture-Forest Service.  This letter will amplify our oral comments made during public hearings in Asheville and Raleigh.

We at BREDL oppose the inclusion of any changes or addenda to the Tennessee Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU).  Our attorneys advise that such addenda could jeopardize the legal standing of the agreement.  These addenda all address matters of procedure; all process and timing issues can be worked out by the staff at NC DENR’s Division of Air Quality and federal land managers.

We strongly oppose Addendum One which would alter the preamble of the MOU by giving the signatory permitting authority absolute control over how the agreement’s procedures are followed or whether they are followed at all.  It states, “The signatory authority will, in its sole discretion, determine the extent of the efforts, if any, to be undertaken pursuant to that role”  (emphasis added).  This statement undermines the fundamental purpose of the agreement and  would make the MOU a meaningless exercise in public relations.

Changes at the Division of Air Quality have diluted the Clean Air Act’s charge of affirmative responsibility for AQRV’s by federal land managers.  According to experts in the matter, the procedures contained in the MOU were standard practice until a few years ago.  Industry opposition to the MOU is spelled out by the NC Citizens for Business and Industry and the NC Manufacturers and Chemical Industry Council in a letter to Secretary Wayne McDevitt dated January 7, 1998 which states, “We believe that certain provisions of the MOU represent a significant departure from current PSD regulatory procedures under the Clean Air Act and NC regulations.”  It is our belief that current procedures represent a departure from previous unwritten practice by DENR and federal land managers.  Signing the MOU without addenda would return us the status quo ante, before the revolving door allowed industry representatives to gain powerful positions within the Division of Air Quality.

For more than a decade, BREDL staff, chapter representatives, and members from western counties have struggled against the abuses of the Western North Carolina Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.  These abuses have included violations of NC Open Records Law and the Open Meetings Law.  Large polluters, especially Champion Paper and CP&L, have inordinate power over decision-making at the Local Program.  We have no confidence in the ability of this Local Program, as the permitting authority in two western North Carolina counties, to abide by the provisions of the agreement and protect Air Quality Related Values in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The Tennessee MOU came about as a result of a controversy over a major new air pollution source near the Smokies.  Following a legal appeal made by the Department of the Interior and the National Parks and Conservation Association, a settlement was reached which included an agreement on permitting processes for new sources.  Shortly thereafter the State of Tennessee, under pressure from the Tennessee Association of Business, rescinded the agreement. Overwhelming public outcry finally resulted in a new negotiated agreement between the Department of the Interior and the State of Tennessee.  Similar arguments against the MOU have been posed by both Tennessee and North Carolina industry groups.  They did not prevail in the Volunteer State.  They should not succeed in the Tar Heel State.

North Carolina should sign this agreement as adopted by Tennessee because it is protective of the air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other important areas.   Right now, air pollution in the Southern Appalachians is having a devastating impact on our forests and streams. For example: Some high elevation park streams have the highest nitrate concentrations of any measured systems in the United States. According to the Integrated Forest Study, nitrogen deposition is higher in the Smokies than at any other monitored location in North America. The acidity (pH) of rainfall at the Smokies is often 5-10 time more acidic than natural rainfall. Some higher elevation soils in the Smokies are experiencing advance stages of nitrogen saturation which lead to the leaching of toxic aluminum. Ground-level ozone pollution injury has also be documented to 30 species of plants in park. Field surveys reveal 90 species with ozone-like injury. Ground-level ozone threatens not only forests but human health.  This summer, an unprecedented 42 unhealthy air quality days were recorded in the park doubling last year’s record of 19 days. The park also recorded the highest every one-hour reading for ozone pollution at 135 parts per billion, three to six times the normal levels.

Bill, in your statement issued September 3rd you said,  “North Carolina is committed to protecting air quality and visibility in the most pristine areas of the mountains and the coast.”  Governor Hunt should sign the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU); he should sign it without changes before it expires on December 31, 1998.


Louis Zeller

NCCBI letter to Wayne McDevitt, 1/7/98