Polluting power plant in North Carolina ordered to shut down

Bald Head Island in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

A polluting power plant that burns a harmful mix of shredded tires, creosote-soaked wood, and coal must stop its toxic air pollution and shut down by March 2021 thanks to a recently finalized state consent order prompted by advocacy from SELC and its partners Brunswick Environmental Action Team, Cape Fear River Watch, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, Clean Air Carolina, and Sierra Club.

Efforts to stop toxic air pollution also led to a similar order issued this summer for the company’s Roxboro plant in Person County.

Under the order, signed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and CPI USA, the Southport plant must cease operations in March and meet a stricter limit for harmful sulfur dioxide emissions until it closes.

On the coast, just like in Person County, CPI’s harmful and unlawful pollution has gone on long enough. This order will mean cleaner air and water for Brunswick County.”

—Staff Attorney Leslie Griffith

Sulfur dioxide pollution causes skin and eye irritation and worsens asthma and heart conditions. Scientific research links poor air quality with many serious health conditions, including asthma, cancer, and even an increased the risk of death from COVID-19.

“On the coast, just like in Person County, CPI’s harmful and unlawful pollution has gone on long enough,” said Staff Attorney Leslie Griffith. “This order will mean cleaner air and water for Brunswick County.”

For years, Southport residents near the plant have worried about their health as they wiped oily residue from the plant’s smokestacks off their cars and homes. DEQ cited the plant for air permit violations multiple times over its history.

As with the order for CPI’s sister plant in Roxboro, this order ends more than a decade of unlawful air pollution stemming from 2008 plant changes. Retrofits allowed both plants to burn more tire waste than before, significantly increasing the plant’s sulfur dioxide pollution—yet the company avoided required Clean Air Act permitting and control technology.

Ten years later, CPI claimed that those plant modifications had not triggered more stringent pollution limits, despite increased pollution at both Southport and Roxboro. In July 2019, DEQ initially proposed a permit for CPI Roxboro that would have accepted the company’s claim and let the plant continue avoiding sulfur dioxide controls required by the Clean Air Act. But SELC and our partners pointed to DEQ’s own documents showing that CPI Roxboro’s increased harmful emissions could not evade the required pollution controls. 

After reviewing comments from the conservation groups and EPA, the agency began enforcement actions against CPI at both Roxboro and Southport in October 2019. The company paid a $473,987 penalty for its actions at the Southport plant in February 2020. 

The Southport plant’s water pollution, which flows into the ocean at nearby Caswell Beach, has sparked local outcry as well. In 2019, after SELC submitted comments on behalf of environmental and Brunswick County community groups on a draft Clean Water Act permit calling for stronger monitoring and protections against toxic wastewater, dozens of people attended a public hearing to voice their concerns.

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