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The Daily Tar Heel

Clean Air Plan Gets Backing

Duke Energy and Progress Energy would freeze their electricity rates for five years but would recover the losses.

To finance pollution-reducing equipment, electricity rates would be frozen for five years, followed by a seven-year period during which electric utilities could recover the estimated $2.3 billion needed to make the improvements.

The state's two largest electric utilities, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, also have thrown their support behind the plan, which would reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by about 70 percent from 1998 levels. Mercury emissions also would drop substantially.

N.C. Sierra Club Director Molly Diggens said Friday that the plan holds great promise.

"If passed as proposed, it would be one of the strongest pieces of environmental legislation ever approved by the (N.C.) General Assembly," she said. "Everyone will benefit."

A similar plan, called the Clean Smokestacks Act, was passed by the N.C. Senate last year but stalled in the N.C. House because of questions about who would finance the costs.

The Senate bill allowed for modest electricity rate increases amounting to less than $5 per month for average residential consumers. But large manufacturers, who would have seen substantial electric bill increases, opposed the rate increase.

Easley stated in a press release that the new clean air plan would "benefit the health of our people by reducing lung disease and asthma; benefit our environment by reducing smog and acid rain and benefit our economy by preserving our investments in tourism."

Easley spokeswoman Amanda Wherry said the new plan has a better chance of passing in the House because rates will not increase and utility companies support it.

"The holdup was working with utility companies," she said. "The governor didn't want the consumers to have to pay for it."

One sponsor of the clean smokestacks bill in the House, Rep. Phillip Haire, D-Jackson, said that although the details of the plan are still unclear, he is pleased with the new framework.

"I think it's a win-win bill," he said. "I think we're going to be able to get the 61 votes to pass it."

Haire said he and others would work hard to get the legislation passed.

"I think it's a vital necessity that we clean up our air, particularly where I live in western North Carolina," he said. "You can see the smog hanging in the valleys.

"It's a health issue."

Energy providers praised the plan as an innovative way to fund pollution reduction without raising utility rates.

"We don't have to go to Wall Street to borrow the money," said Duke Power spokesman Tom Williams. "We're happy to do it as long as we can get recovery."

Progress Energy spokesman Garrick Francis called the Easley plan a creative way to get the legislation passed.

"We applaud the governor," he said. "North Carolina will continue to have some of the lowest electric rates in the nation."

The State & National Editor can be reached at

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