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Mecklenburg's Medical Director comments on Cliffside plant

Mecklenburg County's Medical Director stepped into the spotlight today in a controversy over Duke Energy's Cliffside power plant. State regulators hold a final hearing on Duke's latest permit request tonight (Thursday) in Statesville at 6 p.m. Speaking on behalf of the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, Mecklenburg County Medical Director Stephen Keener coauthored a column in today's Observer questioning Duke Energy's latest claims. The power company now says its new coal-fired generator at Cliffside will emit far less pollution than originally expected and the company would like to change its permit to become only a "minor source" of air pollutants. Doctor Keener believes Duke Energy has done little to justify that claim, and worries state regulators are too willing to accept it: "What we're just saying is, look, let's make sure that everything that can be done has been done and that our government is look out for the health and safety of the citizens in the Charlotte area," says Keener. Duke Energy says its original air pollution projections for the Cliffside plant were just estimates. Spokeswoman Tina Worley says Duke is now installing better technology at the plant: "We are confident that we can ensure that Cliffside six will be one of the cleanest coal-fire units in the country when it does come online in 2012," says Worley. If Duke Energy is granted the permit change it would have to meet stricter rules for some pollutants, but may also have more flexibility in the amount of mercury Cliffside emits. That's of particular concern to the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, which is urging state regulators to hold Duke to the tightest controls possible. Tonight (Thursday, January 22, 2009) is the last opportunity for public comment on Duke's request. State regulators hope to make a decision in February.