Roy Cooper, the state's attorney general, took a necessary step last week when he made clear his intention to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unless it addresses potential violations of the Clean Air Act by groups in other states.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which Cooper also plans to sue, and other government agencies in nearby states should be held accountable for evidence that coal-fired power plants in those states are contributing to air pollution in North Carolina.
Cooper is acting at long last on a lingering problem - the persistently poor air quality in North Carolina. And rightly so.
Poor air quality has had a severely detrimental effect on N.C. public health and the state's economy.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, an environmental advocacy group, is also considering a lawsuit against the EPA on behalf of N.C. Environmental Defense. The center states on its Web site that almost 2,000 North Carolinians die from exposure to power-plant emissions each year.
The tourism industry based in North Carolina's mountain region also has suffered, as the additional pollution has created hazes to block scenic views.
The state has taken steps to meet national air quality standards and has acted to reduce the amount of emissions from North Carolina's coal-fired power plants that pollute the air.
A spokesman for the N.C. Division of Air Quality told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that North Carolina's 14 coal-fired power plants are complying with EPA regulations. Additionally, state legislators passed the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, which further raises emission standards.
Yet the state still struggles to meet national air quality standards.
The culprits are looking more and more like North Carolina's neighbors. And the EPA has refused to act to prevent other states from causing North Carolinians to suffer.
Cooper correctly has taken steps toward the courtroom to seek help. When the federal government neglects its responsibilities, it is right for states to try to bring about action that suits their needs.
Cooper is doing no less than that, and he should be applauded for acting in the state's best interest.
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