Closing Pollution Loopholes Will Protect NC’s Air

The US EPA is proposing to close some major loopholes in the Clean Air Act that allow industry to illegally pollute North Carolina’s air.

By ending these exemptions, the EPA could significantly improve air quality, especially for some of our state’s most vulnerable communities. But there are still dozens of similar loopholes the EPA’s current federal regulations allow. As long as polluters are able to evade the Clean Air Act’s clear mandate that emissions limitations apply “continuously,” they will continue to endanger both our air and our health.

Tell the EPA you support the closure of all emissions loopholes, and urge them to protect the health of all North Carolinians.

A Free Pass for Polluters

These loopholes cover times when industrial facilities are starting up, shutting down, or are malfunctioning (“SSM”). Factories might temporarily exceed their allowable emissions limits by releasing huge amounts of pollution during these brief periods of abnormal activity. 

But the current SSM loopholes are so broad that they effectively neutralize the Clean Air Act and hand polluters a blank check for emissions.

In 2015, the Obama Administration took action to close the loopholes in several states’ air quality regulations—including North Carolina’s. But the Trump Administration subsequently blocked efforts to bring North Carolina’s rules into compliance with federal law, and exemptions for pollution spikes were unlawfully permitted to continue in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Deadly Emissions

SSM loopholes allow industrial polluters to release large spikes of harmful pollution over hours or days, or even weeks, that neighboring communities breathe. These emissions include dangerous air pollutants hazardous to human health, including soot, ozone pollution, and several known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

The pollution emitted can be substantial. A study in Texas found that SSM events are “frequent, large in magnitude, [and] last from a few hours to several days (or even weeks).” Some industrial polluters release more harmful air pollution during a single SSM spike than they are permitted to emit in an entire year.

And SSM events are more likely to occur during disasters, such as hurricanes. As climate change continues to fuel more intense storms, these events could become both worse and more frequent.

An Unequal Burden

The health risks are not shared equally. Pollution spikes permitted by startup, shutdown, and malfunction loopholes disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities.

These toxic flares pollute the surrounding air and cause serious health problems for fenceline communities. Along the Gulf Coast, these loopholes are driving an environmental injustice crisis because of the high concentration of polluters along a corridor that has become known as “Cancer Alley.”

In North Carolina, we are particularly concerned about the excess emissions from compressor stations for natural gas pipelines and wood pellet “biomass” mills, which process timber burned for electricity in Europe. These mills disproportionately burden rural, lower-wealth, and BIPOC communities in eastern North Carolina.

What We Can Do

After a legal challenge brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of CleanAIRE NC and our partners, the EPA has agreed to finally close these loopholes in North Carolina and other states, ensuring that the Clean Air Act protects the air we breathe day in and day out, as the law requires.

But the job’s not done yet.

We need you to thank the EPA for closing these loopholes and protecting North Carolinians from dangerous pollution events, to demonstrate public support for the EPA’s proposed action. 

We are also asking the EPA to require North Carolina to close these loopholes more quickly than proposed. The EPA has suggested giving the state the maximum time allowable to act: 18 months. But North Carolina has been on notice that its exemptions violated the Clean Air Act since 2015—EPA should not put North Carolinians’ health at risk for another year and a half when we know these pollution spikes can and should be eliminated more quickly. 

Reach out to the EPA to let them know you support closing SSM loopholes as soon as possible to safeguard public health. In your comments, please also urge them to quickly close the other unlawful SSM loopholes in federal regulations that were not covered by the proposed action. You can use these talking points to help inform your comments.

Call for stronger air protections:

Urge the EPA to protect North Carolina’s health by ending all pollution loopholes for Startups, Shutdowns, and Malfunctions! Submit your comments by 11:59pm, April 25th.