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Duke Energy seeks weaker regs for coal-fired power plant; mercury limits wouldn't change

Correction/update appended Duke Energy has applied for a new permit that would result in weaker regulations for its new coal-fired power plant under construction west of Charlotte. Duke Energy spokesperson Marilyn Linebarger says the company now believes its Cliffside plant will emit far less pollution than original thought, because it uses cutting-edge technology. "Cliffside Unit 6 will be the largest - and only the second pulverized coal-fired power plant in the nation - to achieve this designation," says Linebarger. "So it really is a transition plant to a lower emission future. Which is all of our goal in North Carolina." Environmental groups argue say Duke's promises are unrealistic. Here's Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Patrice Simms. "It relies on a couple of startling assumptions," says Simms. "One is that the unit will perform at the best of the best possible pollutant removal efficiency that has ever been demonstrated." And, Simms says if the Cliffside plant is granted a permit as only a minor producer of hazardous air pollutants it will not have to meet stricter federal standards for mercury and other dangerous substances. The new permit would also likely make Duke Energy exempt from a recent judge's order for a full assessment of the plant's emissions. Before making a decision, state regulators will hold a public hearing in Rutherford County on January 15th. Correction/Update - Dec. 19, 2008 Our story states that Duke Energy is seeking a new permit. In fact, Duke is seeking to amend its permit for the Cliffside plant regarding federal restrictions on hazardous air pollutants. If approved, the change would not affect limits on the plant's mercury emissions because the plant would still be subject to stricter North Carolina regulations for mercury. For other hazardous air pollutants, state regulators confirm that the amended permit could result in weaker regulations.