North Carolina becomes a
national leader in clean air
became a national leader in fighting air pollution with the ratification of
legislation requiring Progress Energy and Duke Energy to radically reduce
emissions from the 14 coal-fired power plants they operate in the state. The
utilities will install state-of-the-art scrubbers at the plants that will slash
emissions of nitrogen oxide by 78 percent by 2009. Nitrogen oxide is a main
cause of ozone and contributes to acid rain and haze.
To help Duke Energy and Progress Energy pay the staggering costs of upgrading
the power plants, the state agreed to freeze residential electric rates at
current levels for the next five years. It’s possible those rates would have
been lowered as the utilities paid off previous investments covered by the rate
“There is not another plan in the country that goes this far toward cleaning
harmful smokestack emissions from our air — and it does so without raising
rates,” Gov. Mike Easley said at the bill-signing ceremony at the Capital.
“These reductions will protect the health of all 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.”
Both Duke Energy and Progress Energy supported the legislation, as did NCCBI.
“North Carolina’s new clean air legislation is a good example of the kind of
sensible, balanced approach we need to air quality and environmental issues,”
said Progress Energy Chairman William Cavanaugh. “This new legislation
provides adequate timelines, clear standards and full cost recovery that will
allow us to continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity to our
customers while significantly improving air quality.”
The legislation, S. 1078 Improve Air Quality/Electric Utilities, also known as
the Clean Smokestacks bill, will require power plants to reduce nitrogen oxide
emissions from 245,000 tons in 1998 to 56,000 tons by 2009, a 78 percent
reduction. NOx is the main cause of ozone and contributes to acid rain and haze.
It will require a reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions from 489,000 tons in
1998 to 250,000 tons by 2009 (49 percent) and to 130,000 tons by 2013 (74
percent). Sulfur dioxide is the main cause of fine particles, haze and acid
In addition, the law requires the N.C. Division of Air Quality to conduct a
study of mercury and carbon dioxide emissions in the state. As an added benefit,
the equipment needed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions is expected to cut
mercury emissions by about half. Airborne mercury eventually ends up in streams
and lakes where it can accumulate in certain kinds of fish, making them unsafe
Utility companies will be required to cut their emissions year-round at power
plants within North Carolina. The legislation differs from federal rules, which
only apply during the ozone season (April through October), and allows utilities
to buy or trade pollution credits from other states instead of cutting air
pollution from plants in North Carolina.
Separately, Gov. Easley signed a contract in which Duke Energy and Progress
Energy agree to give valuable clean air credits to the state instead of selling
them to power companies elsewhere.
Utility companies earn these credits for a good cleanup record, and they can
sell them to companies in other states. The credits have a monetary value
estimated in the tens of millions.
The Clean Smokestacks law complements the state’s other recent efforts to
reduce emissions from motor vehicles. In 1999, the General Assembly adopted
legislation expanding into 49 counties the auto emissions testing program that
had been in effect only in the state’s urban areas. However, problems with new
computer software forced a delay in the Clean Tailpipe program from its
scheduled start in July until September.
Treasurer Gets Tough: Wall Street
investment firms must enforce strict new separations between their investment
banking and market research divisions if they want to continue doing business
with North Carolina’s $60 billion pension fund, state Treasurer Richard Moore
said last month. He announced that North Carolina, which has the 10th
largest public pension fund in the United States and the 24th largest
in the world, will join with New York, with its $110 billion pension fund, in
the move to protect their pension funds against bad investment advice. Moore and
New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall said they will stop doing business
with Wall Street firms that compensate their analysts based on the amount of
investment banking business they bring in.
HMO External Reviews: One of the
major parts of North Carolina’s new Patients Bill of Rights law took effect
July 1 when the state Department of Insurance (DOI) launched its program
creating external review of medical care decisions by insurance companies. The
Healthcare Review program provides consumers with the right to appeal an
insurance company’s decision to deny coverage because they believe the
services are not medically necessary. This new law applies to all health
insurers that perform utilization review. The law does not cover self-funded
employee health plans covered under ERISA, Medicare or Medicaid and does not
cover denials for reasons other than medical necessity.
Any health plan participant whose initial denial decision was made on or after
July 1 can request an external review from DOI. However, before being eligible
for an external review, all appeals procedures with the insurance company must
be exhausted. When the internal appeals process goes against the consumer, the
consumer may request an external review from DOI. The request must be filed
within 60 days of receiving the insurer’s final denial.
DOI will evaluate each request to determine if it is eligible for an external
review. Those cases that do qualify will be assigned to a group of health
professionals who are experts in the medical condition covered in the case and
will have experience with the services and treatments used to treat that
condition. -- Steve Tuttle
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